Is watching a car crash good for your mental health: Why do we do it?

Ever stopped by an accident scene to see what really happened? Is it possible for us to stop staring at something that can is some sense be morbid, especially at fatal accident sites. While a scene of destruction is truly disturbing and involves suffering, it could be a boost for one’s mental health.

True that a sense of loss and grief is what one feels when witnessing an accident or when stopping to take a look at what happened, in some aspect that guilt prompts a deeper value of our own lives, and those of loved ones.

Rubbernecking as it’s popularly termed, prompts us to empathise with suffering and in turns helps us value life more as per Professor of English at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Eric Wilson who’s new book ‘Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away’ emphasizes on this point.

In the professor’s words, “I was asking myself: “Why am I so interested in writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley and becoming increasingly fixated on horror movies? Why as I become more mature – I have a wife, a daughter – why can’t I stop watching bad Boris Karloff movies?” “I realised, though, that maybe my morbidity doesn’t make me weird, maybe it’s not such a bad thing – that we all have a morbid side.” “I did a lot of field work, visited what you might call “masters of the macabre.”

He added, “There are many reasons why we’re attracted to the morbid,’ he said. ‘It’s titillating, it’s a weird physiological arousal, an animal stimulation – some scientists even think it has an evolutionary value.” “For instance, some gazelles watch while one of their own is eaten by a lion. And some humans might share this trait – we learn what not to do.” This was what psychologist Carl Jung advocated as per Professor Wilson.

He went on to say, “Jung might say that we have a shadow side. Most of us go through life repressing it, yet it draws us to death and gore. But Jung says it’s psychologically healthy, because it can help us get to know ourselves.” “Morbid curiosity allows us to think about the meaning of suffering and death.’

He adds, “If a celebrity falls from grace we commodify these experiences, we’re not allowing ourselves to imagine it. If we open up empathetically to the other person it can make us more human.” “It’s about the necessity of using our imagination in trying to make suffering meaningful. What’s the difference between titillation and exploitation? The power of imagination to empathise. It’s not something I’d thought about before.”

He did draw the line between negative aspects of such a fascination in saying, “If you look at a car accident by the road, hopefully you think about the suffering of others and feel relieved, you don’t seek out other accidents. You don’t dwell on it.” “Someone who seeks out pain, suffering and catastrophe as his main purpose in life – that can lead to depression. It leads to insensitivity, to being less sensitive to the meaning of catastrophe and a bleak life.”

He emphasizes in relation to the Film ‘The Shining’, “The danger is when we don’t realise the monsters are inside of us, that’s when we become monsters. And Jack is not aware the monster is inside him.” “Also, the name of the hotel in the movie is The Overlook Hotel – and I think Kubrick is saying: “Do not overlook the darkness within.”