Copycat crime

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A copycat crime is a criminal act that is modelled or inspired by a previous crime that has been reported in the media or described in fiction.

Copycat effect[edit]

The "copycat effect" is the tendency of sensational publicity about violent murders or suicides to result in more of the same through imitation.[1]

The term was first coined around 1916 due to the crimes that were inspired by Jack the Ripper. Due to the increase of replicated crimes, criminologists soon began to realize that media coverage played a role in inspiring other criminals to commit crimes in a similar fashion.[2]

There is also a book written by Loren Coleman called The Copycat Effect that describes the effect that the media has on crimes and suicides, which are inspired by crimes that have been widely covered across the media. Coleman's view on the media is that the constant coverage of these events, rather than the events with a positive message, gives these criminals a type of fame. The five minutes of fame, book or movie that is dedicated to these criminals provokes individuals with a tendency to behave in a similar way. Due to this type of fame, the "copycat effect" takes place.[3]


Various criminal acts have been inspired by many television shows, movies, books as well as other criminals. A list of the few crimes that have been a result of the copycat effect are:

Breaking Bad[edit]

The television show Breaking Bad has been suspected of inspiring a number of crimes. A few crimes include the following:




It has been shown that most of the people who mimic crimes seen in the media (especially news and violent movies) have in most cases prior criminal records, prior severe mental health problems or histories of violence suggesting that the effect of the media is indirect (more affecting criminal behaviour) rather than direct (directly affecting the number of criminals).[7] However that indirect influence that the media has on the individual does give them the idea of how to commit the crime. The type of reaction that the media coverage gives crimes can determine the path another criminal might take. This is because most criminals are intent on the shock value of their actions. They want to do something that will cause a high media coverage because of the attention that they will get, as well as the horror of the population. If going on a shooting rampage in a public space causes this attention (because of previous incidents), then an individual with the tendency to commit the crime will more likely take that path.[8]

The norms, heroes, anti-heroes and the spectacles of the time and place also influence how a crime is committed. In today's society, dressing up as ones favorite villain, and going to a public place armed is what some criminals do, or sometimes they even replicate their favorite movie or TV show scene. Whereas in the Middle Ages, the crimes would be associated with the devil, snakes, or witches. But in both scenarios, it is the public interest that sparks what crime might be committed.[8]

An individual's interaction between violent media content and emotional development play a role in copycat behaviors. Individuals who are less emotionally developed will more likely commit the crimes that they see on TV. Characteristics such as demographic (age and sex), criminal factors (mental/personality disorders, failure in human bonding/lack of identity, social isolation and alienation) and relationship to Media (trust in media, Media literacy, identification with the perpetrators seen in media,) mixed with media characteristics and cultural-environment factors influences the copycat behavior in individuals. Media characteristics include the blur between fantasy and reality, positive response to violence and crime and how the crime is being committed. Cultural-environmental factors include the cultural view of fame and crime, reliance to the media for information and moral panics. Most offenders to likely be influenced by these characteristics are usually under the age of 25.[9]


Loren Coleman has suggested that effect can be prevented by the following:[10]

Zeynep Tufekci also has four methods to prevent copycat crime from happening:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Loren Coleman, (2004) The copycat effect: How the media and popular culture trigger the mayhem in tomorrow's headlines, Simon and Schuster, NY.
  2. ^ "C is for Copycat Effect". Hunteremkay. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  3. ^ Loren Coleman, (2004) The copycat effect: How the media and popular culture trigger the mayhem in tomorrow's headlines, Simon and Schuster, NY.
  4. ^ a b c d Robson, Steve. "Breaking Bad sparks 'copycat crimewave' across the US". Mirror. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Mannen, Amanda. "10 Movies That Inspired Real-Life Crimes". Listverse. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Clark, Josh. "10 Notable Copycat Killers". How Stuff Works. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  7. ^ Surette, R. (2002). "Self-Reported Copycat Crime Among a Population of Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders". Crime & Delinquency 48 (1): 46–69. doi:10.1177/0011128702048001002. 
  8. ^ a b Tufekci, Zeynep. "The Media Needs to Stop Inspiring Copycat Murders. Here's How.". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  9. ^ Helfgott, Jacqueline (2008). Criminal Behavior: Theories, Typologies and Criminal Justice. Sage Publications, inc. pp. 377–391. ISBN 978-1-4129-0487-2. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Hammerschlag, Michael. "The Copycat Effect". Hammer News. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 

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