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Why Do People Enjoy or Like Watching Others Suffer

Dark side of humans?

I just read about this disturbing news - about a teen who killed himself before a live Internet audience. The more disturbing part being that the majority of the live audience apparently egged him on. Some of them cracked jokes apparently. Now, this is not the first time this has happened. I remember reading about something similar a while ago. I know the question I've asked is quite loaded and perhaps uncomfortable to consider. But, the reason I ask is because I feel it needs to be discussed and studied. Perhaps, there is a dark side to us humans that we tend to smoothen over. Could it be that some humans or most humans enjoy watching death or enjoy pain being inflicted on others?

If we dwelve into history, certainly the Romans were morbidly fascinated by the gladiatorial contests with all of the blood and gore that such contests entailed. By all accounts, they enjoyed watching the butchery and savagery of humans being killed by beasts and fellow humans alike. I wonder if the gladiatorial games would be as successful as they were if it involved no blood at all.

Also, through the ages, public executions seem to have been quite an attraction, with people traveling vast distances to take part in the proceedings. In fact, this attraction towards public executions isn't medieval either. In America (in relatively modern times), hangings were by all accounts carried out in a circus-like atmosphere. Apparently, that was one of the reasons why they had to look for alternative methods of executing people. It was much too embarrassing to the authorities.

Modern-Age Equivalents of Gladitorial Games, Beheadings

Wrestling matches or extreme fighting matches are perhaps our modern-age equivalents to gladiatorial contests, and it seems the audiences like blood on the mat. In wrestling in particular, it seems there are more matches that end with some blood involved as compared to the past and the audience seems to want more of such extreme matches. They cheer on during such contests.

What about today's terrorists? The likes of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups? Their preferred form of execution seems to be beheadings - that most barbaric, cruel, inhumane way of killing a fellow human being. One would have thought that the act of beheading a fellow human being would elicit some sort of regret, sorrow, at least not joy! But, they seem so happy to behead a fellow human being - albeit a human being that they think of as an "infidel" - which in no way can justify that barbaric act.

Its not just your average terrorist though who can commit acts that cause suffering to his/her fellow human beings. What we had at Abu Ghraib was an example of that - American soldiers doing the worst kind of atrocities to their fellow human beings - so what if they are your enemies or perceived enemies - is that justifiable?

Who are these men and women who commit such cruel, inhuman acts that cause suffering to their fellow human beings? You might think they are some freaks, but are they? Wish they were, but they are just like you and me - the average person! So, does inflicting pain on others or watching others in pain excite us, or compel us to watch?

It seems to me that people perhaps derive some kind of voyeuristic pleasure watching others die or suffer. Even today, in places where public executions are carried out - lots of people turn out to watch. Why? Can it just be passed off as curiosity? Something to think about!


Gotzon on February 03, 2015:

I hate these kind of people. I hope they all die in an asteroid hit after what they have done and said to me. they are trash, best thing that will have happened since the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs.


William on November 15, 2013:

I take slight offense to the person who claimed atheists have no morals and would enjoy people dying. I am an atheist and violence of any sort disrurbs me and I cannot understand why people love violence or torture or seeing others tortured so much. When I was a child I was physically and verbally abused. I quickly became fascinated with horror films and as a child did have a sense of excitement when watching fictitious characters in movies being tortured. However, as I grew older I kept lending myself to situations where I would inevitably be the victim and would let a lot of guys I dated mistreat me, because I think that I thought I deserved it. It was not until I finally sought help that I realized this pattern. Now, all forms of violence really bother me and I am quite sensitive when it comes to witnessing others enjoying these violent acts being displayed. It is something I feel I see far too often in comments from people or just their reactions. I agree with whoever said that human beings think they are way more important than they are, or superior to other species and it really saddens me. I have given up on trying to make peace with violent individuals as it only entices them to shout out "he doesn't like violence!!? Let's kill him!!" That may be an over dramatic statement , but essentially that is how it feels. I am convinced humanity will be doomed in the long run so I just try to always remain peaceful and only surround myself by others who share a like mind. A lot of atheists I know are some I the most heartfelt and giving individuals. Not to say all Christians are hateful because I know some fairly amazing ones, but the reason I came here was because I saw an article where a man was accused of a crime and a lot of responses were "string him up! Kill him! Let's watch!" With "God Bless!" added to the end. I think most people, in general , have a God-like mindset, meaning they think they are so superior they enjoy watching others suffer like ants. Whereas the individuals in life that have the Jesus (peaceful) mentality , are often given the short end of the stick in life and beaten down by those who have the God-like mentality.

G on May 03, 2013:

"Look, people are sexually excited watching other people being tortured or executed. I find that exciting. Tell me I'm not wrong."

And this sounds psychologically healthy and You know you live in a fucked up world when people tear down others for a transitory ego boost. Where's the empathy, the emotional intelligence? Why should I respect people who act like literal animals?

ianfutcher on November 11, 2012:

I've just come across this thread whilst searching the net for an answer as to why i was just watching terrible gore videos. In one video two guys get decapitated with a chainsaw (yeah, i know, WTF). Another involved the aftermath of a traffic accident and the scenes were just too much to describe. There were many others to watch but i just felt weird, almost sick and to be honest i have seen these kind of things before albeit briefly and despite knowing what to expect i still watched them until i could no longer take it. Now i just feel a bit odd and guilty for having watched this stuff, but thankfully i took absolutely no pleasure or anything positive what so ever from having viewed them. I'm just wondering why i clicked on them in the first place?

Emptytproll on July 09, 2012:

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Although I've never seen a live killing or suicide, I quite enjoy watching videos of death. Particularly, I love watching executions due to the fact it can give you great insight on what exactly a person is like when they are about to die. There will never be anything quite like watching a gangbanger cry when he sees a knife coming at his neck and he cant do anything about it. But to answer WHY I like it personally is mostly do to my intense interest in psychology, both of the killer and the person being killed. I like reading the motivations and the events leading up to it. I like seeing rage and passion in a good cutting.

IIIII on June 22, 2012:

since you are basing your views on "Atheistic" value no wonder you get a rise out of watching others suffer

But it shows that humans, even humans who are wrongly thought of as ‘primitive’, had the forethought and intelligence to see remote ends, which is something no animal can do.

Simplistic on June 22, 2012:

If you like to watch humans suffer then get help !! Researchers believe most of humanity is insane - where a fraction stand against all violence or even watching it ! I for one get no pleasures out of watching a person die !! Some do and those people are twisted if not mental ...

Balthesar on January 22, 2012:

Look, people are sexually excited watching other people being tortured or executed. I find that exciting. Tell me I'm not worng.

Shil1978 (author) on November 16, 2011:

Alisse, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Well, humans do seem to enjoy watching wrestling shows with chair shots and what have you. They wouldn't show blood, if there wasn't an audience for it.

Wrestling fans seem to enjoy all that blood and gore - TV shows are far tamer, but yes, I think if there weren't an audience for it, there wouldn't be shows that show violence.

Alisse on November 16, 2011:

I started looking this up when I realized all the crime shows on TV. I was wondering if the reason people watched was to see others commit atrocious crimes.

Thegoldenending on October 09, 2011:

Group conformity I believe..rarely would someone do such atrocity alone.I've seen someone laugh at the suffering of others on tv..and I survey why did they so.They apparently got no idea why..I perceive that its just humanity instinct trying to survive in a crowds.The sad part is that if you're actually interview all of them individually..its quite possible for none of them(not even 1 originator) to know why they're laughing at the suffering.The same could be said about funerals..if you ask why they're crying about the persons death.They usually make up things or traits about the person that don't exist..just so they can cry over a fake persona of a person?Just fruit for thinking

Bjorn on September 08, 2011:

i was just searching the web as to why i find it good when i see other in pain i.e. whenever someone is hurt and starts crying i find amusing whenever they get angry its funny for me whenever they are in pain i feel like it brings me this feelings that's just "satisfying" in a way, maybe that woud shed some light as i would be more of a different human being then the rest of the people who responded on this collom

Yo on September 08, 2011:

The only reason I will ever watch (only suicides, never pain inflicted on other people or accidents) is because of my mental issue and it reminds me how painful it would be to die and stops me from doing it myself.

I'm not saying this is justified but sometimes it does help.

I don't particularly 'enjoy' it though like some people seem to.

Shil1978 (author) on September 07, 2011:


I agree with your reasoning. As evolved as we may think we are, we are really not!! We still have our ancestors' blood lust - just that now - that side of us has been desensitized by society. It doesn't take much for that side of us to rise up and reveal itself in all its ugliness.

Thank you, valiant, for stopping by and sharing your view on this subject. Yes, this article is quite old - but I am not, I keep in touch with my writings, so was a pleasure to have someone react to this article after such a long while :)

valiant93 on September 07, 2011:

I know this article is a little old but I'll put in my two cents anyway.

I believe that people satisfy an ancient primordial instinct when they watch people suffer or die. It allows us to believe we have power over that person by being the individual that is causing them that pain or witnessing it, which was a main part of our being back in ancient times (alpha male beating up on a challenger with NO OTHER animal intervening). I also think apart of this death witnessing aspect of our species is due to modern influences which also stoke those ancient fires of blood-lust. The subject of witnessing actual death is taboo in our society. How many of you have actually witnessed raw violence or death? Not many I'd say, so to be given an opportunity to experience it is one that only a few would pass by whilst others would chose to stay out of curiosity and a once in a lifetime screening of such an occurrence.

Food for thought...

Mind Surgeon on December 23, 2010:

I view gore sites occasionally, only because it reminds me that I'm mortal, mortality I find is often ignored until someone drops dead, then it creeps up and slaps you on the face and says hi, I don't enjoy it but I gain insight into my own innate fragility, I'd rather be perpetually aware of my mortality than not aware, it makes me stronger I think, mentally anyway.

I think in some cases violence stimulates a suppressed desire for power and control in certain individuals, you can see it reflected in games, sports and movies, the viewer may mentally project themselves onto the character or person dishing out the ass-whooping so they can vicariously experience a sense of superiority over his victims/opponents, like a sort of mental simulation, when it comes to reality it's probably the same thing, although I'm guessing it would require a severe lack of empathy to derive joy from seeing pain being inflicted on a fellow human, or maybe it's enjoyable to those who percieve it as justice. (Thinking back to the cheering crowds as Ted Bundy was about to be executed).

As for enjoying pain being inflicted accidentally onto other people, I think it just reflects our own ability to make better decisions, we feel smarter for noticing the gaping hole in the ground while some guy doesn't and pays the price by falling on his face *chuckles*.

Shil1978 (author) on July 29, 2010:

Thank you Midasfx for stopping by and commenting. We do have something to think about, as in why we seem to enjoy those bits. Yes, they are funny to watch but why is it funny? Could there be a deeper reason? Food for thought, for sure!!

Midasfx on July 29, 2010:

I remember the best part of a skateboarding video is the end where they show all the bloopers of kids falling down stairs. Or getting sacked on rails or trying to do a trick off something really high up and they land wrong and break something or maybe land on their face. lol

we are sick. I think this youtube video speaks volumes! ^_^ enjoy

Always Greener on July 28, 2010:

Weird, weird and extremely weird story about the teen who killed himself.

Jezebelle on July 04, 2010:

Huh, I tried meditation before but it doesn't help me. And yoga just isn't for me. Though I have never regretted anything I have done, even I know that it's a bit wrong.

Shil1978 (author) on July 03, 2010:

Jez, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Yes, I agree in that every human has a dark side, just that some humans seem to keep the dark side in check better than others!!

You are very young now and your emotions could be quite confusing for you to understand. If you feel excessive angst at others, would suggest you learn meditation.

It is a great way to understand your emotions and control it. Often times, giving in to basic emotions can make you do things that you'd regret later.

Jezebelle on July 03, 2010:

Huh. Just a couple months of ago this what I wondered, just was to lazy to do much about the thought. I admit, I have I dark side though I have never used it... Or at least not physically. I generally enjoy watching people get hurt whether then are actually real or not. (Like a fictional character) And I verbally harm my enemies because well, they are basically asking for it but I'm not too sure if there's really anything wrong with that. I sort of feel satisfied when they shut up and either A)Go cry for no real reason, or B)Leave me alone. Believe me, I hate it when I see my friends hurt but if it's someone I don't know nor do I really care about, I won't generally care to see them hurt. I mean, I might want to... But I just don't.

I guess I believe that every human has a dark side, just some have it more then others. I guess it really depends. Though, -Insert nervous laugh- I think it's sort of wrong for me to feel like this because I'm a pre-teen. >.>;;

Shil1978 (author) on June 24, 2010:

Nice to hear from you again Alicia. It was my pleasure responding to your interesting comments. So, thank you :)