Do We Mistake Fiction for Fact? Investigating Whether the Consumption of Fictional Crime-Related Media May Help to Explain the Criminal Profiling Illusion

The disparity between the ongoing use of criminal profiling and the lack of empirical evidence for its validity is referred to as criminal profiling illusion. Associated risks for society range from misled police investigations, hindered apprehensions of the actual offender(s), and wrongful convictions to mistrust in the police. Research on potential explanations is in its infancy but assumes that people receive and adopt incorrect messages favoring the accuracy and utility of criminal profiling. One suggested mechanism through which individuals may acquire such incorrect messages is the consumption of fictional crime-related media which typically present criminal profiling as highly accurate, operationally useful, and leading to the apprehension of the offender(s). By having some relation to reality but presenting a distorted picture of criminal profiling, fictional crime-related media may blur the line between fiction and reality thereby increasing the risk for the audience to mistake fiction for fact. Adopting a cultivation approach adequate to examine media effects on one’s perception, the present study is the first to investigate whether the perception of criminal profiling may be influenced by the consumption of fictional crime-related media based on a correlation study. Although the results provide support for the assumption that misperceptions of criminal profiling are widely spread in the general population and associated with the consumption of fictional crime-related media, the found cultivation effects are small and must be interpreted cautiously. Considering that even small effects may have the potential to influence real-life decision-making, they may still be relevant and affect society at large.