ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Nikki Yadav Murder Case: Why Do Copycat Crimes Occur? Psychologists Explain

Why do copycat crimes occur? What is the trigger? FIT reached out to psychologists to decode.

Updated
Fit
4 min read
story-hero-img
i
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large
Hindi Female

If you’ve kept track of the news recently, it is hard to miss news stories of brutal murder cases, often a result of intimate partner violence. There is a template – the man allegedly strangles his partner in a 'fit of rage', stores her body somewhere, and tries to flee the city.

These violent crimes and murders dominating our news cycles follows what is described as copycat murders.

Ever since the media reported about Aaftab Poonawala allegedly killing his live-in partner Shraddha Walkar, dismembering her body, storing it inside a fridge, and disposing of it in Mehrauli’s forests in November 2022, more and more similar cases have been coming to the forefront. 

Earlier in February, the Delhi Police arrested 24-year-old Sahil Gehlot for allegedly murdering his partner Nikki Yadav and storing her body inside a fridge at a dhaba, before setting off to get married on the same day. The same week, near Mumbai's Nalasopara, 27-year-old Hardik Shah allegedly strangled his partner to death, and stored her body in a bed box.

Why do copycat crimes occur? What is the trigger? FIT reached out to psychologists to decode.

Nikki Yadav Murder Case: Why Do Copycat Crimes Occur? Psychologists Explain

  1. 1. What Is A Copycat Crime?

    According to an analysis published in Psychology Today, a copycat crime is defined as...

    “...a criminal act that is modelled after or inspired by a previous crime that has been reported in the media or published in fiction. Few copycat crimes are exact replicas of the event that inspired them. Instead, the imitator lifts and copies certain elements — motivation, technique, setting, etc — of the original crime.”

    What Are Some Triggers?

    While copycat crimes might not exactly be like what inspired them, Dr Sandeep Govil, Senior Consultant, Psychiatry, Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi, feels that someone with a criminal tendency might use them as a learning resource.

    “I feel that a major reason copycat crimes happen is that a person might think that, unlike the previous criminal, they’ll not make any mistakes since they’re privy to how the previous criminal was caught.”

    Dr Govil shares that the media’s sensationalism might have fascinated someone about how the crime was committed, and they think that now they can get away with it and easily escape the police.

    "The psyche of the criminal can be assumed to be that of easy susceptibility," he adds.

    Dr Kedar Tilwe, Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, adds to this saying that in most copycat crimes, the perpetrators have a history of either a prior run-in with the law or a mental health issue that was left unaddressed.

    "For such people, the negative outcome which would normally deter others from committing the crime, actually starts seeming favourable."
    Dr Kedar Tilwe
    Expand
  2. 2. Why Media Plays An Important Role?

    Explaining the impact of media on how the public perceives brutal crimes, Dr Govil explains:

    “If you remember, when COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic, one of the mental health guidelines being issued worldwide was asking people not to get too consumed by the news, because it can impact them negatively.”

    When some sensational crime news is being broadcast, people who might have narcissistic or criminal tendencies already, might get pushed over the edge and commit a crime. 

    He adds, “Hardcore narcissistic individuals usually have a tendency to push anyone not serving their purpose out of the way, without any sense of remorse, guilt, or even the slightest emotion, without understanding the consequences of their actions.”

    In that case, while reporting on cases of such brutal violence is in the public interest, not sensationalising them is also a responsibility that comes along with it for the media.

    While Dr Tilwe isn't certain if the media could actually initiate a criminal tendency or thought process in someone, or just trigger them to mimic it, he does say that: "Invariably, the connotation that reaches these people, is not that of possible punishment but that of being (in)famous and getting prime-time coverage."

    And it’s not just the news. True crime drama just also happens to be one of the most watched genres globally.

    Expand
  3. 3. Increase In Reportage Or Increase In Copycat Crimes?

    According to a Psychology Today reported that in a survey, in which 574 prison inmates participated in the US, 22 percent of them “admitted having committed a copycat crime; one out of five of these crimes were violent.”

    In the Indian context, however, there's no comprehensive data on copycat crimes.

    But, it’s also to be wondered if a certain pattern of crime has increased or if the media’s coverage of that pattern has increased following a bigger case of sorts. 

    A research paper titled The Psychology Of Copycat Crime quoted Raymond Surette, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida, as saying,

    “The issue with any of these splurges in crime is that you have to differentiate between an increase in reporting and an increase in crime.”

    In the same paper, a criminal justice professor at Seattle University, Jacqueline Helfgott, stated, “Excessive media attention to a particular type of crime can be a risk factor for criminal behaviour.”

    Dr Tilwe advises that while reporting on any case where incidents of brutal violence are involved, it's better not to dramatise or sensationalise them.

    "More violence in the news gets more clicks and makes more money—whether or not more violent crimes really are happening."
    The Psychology of Copycat Crime

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is A Copycat Crime?

According to an analysis published in Psychology Today, a copycat crime is defined as...

“...a criminal act that is modelled after or inspired by a previous crime that has been reported in the media or published in fiction. Few copycat crimes are exact replicas of the event that inspired them. Instead, the imitator lifts and copies certain elements — motivation, technique, setting, etc — of the original crime.”

What Are Some Triggers?

While copycat crimes might not exactly be like what inspired them, Dr Sandeep Govil, Senior Consultant, Psychiatry, Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi, feels that someone with a criminal tendency might use them as a learning resource.

“I feel that a major reason copycat crimes happen is that a person might think that, unlike the previous criminal, they’ll not make any mistakes since they’re privy to how the previous criminal was caught.”

Dr Govil shares that the media’s sensationalism might have fascinated someone about how the crime was committed, and they think that now they can get away with it and easily escape the police.

"The psyche of the criminal can be assumed to be that of easy susceptibility," he adds.

Dr Kedar Tilwe, Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, adds to this saying that in most copycat crimes, the perpetrators have a history of either a prior run-in with the law or a mental health issue that was left unaddressed.

"For such people, the negative outcome which would normally deter others from committing the crime, actually starts seeming favourable."
Dr Kedar Tilwe
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Why Media Plays An Important Role?

Explaining the impact of media on how the public perceives brutal crimes, Dr Govil explains:

“If you remember, when COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic, one of the mental health guidelines being issued worldwide was asking people not to get too consumed by the news, because it can impact them negatively.”

When some sensational crime news is being broadcast, people who might have narcissistic or criminal tendencies already, might get pushed over the edge and commit a crime. 

He adds, “Hardcore narcissistic individuals usually have a tendency to push anyone not serving their purpose out of the way, without any sense of remorse, guilt, or even the slightest emotion, without understanding the consequences of their actions.”

In that case, while reporting on cases of such brutal violence is in the public interest, not sensationalising them is also a responsibility that comes along with it for the media.

While Dr Tilwe isn't certain if the media could actually initiate a criminal tendency or thought process in someone, or just trigger them to mimic it, he does say that: "Invariably, the connotation that reaches these people, is not that of possible punishment but that of being (in)famous and getting prime-time coverage."

And it’s not just the news. True crime drama just also happens to be one of the most watched genres globally.

0

Increase In Reportage Or Increase In Copycat Crimes?

According to a Psychology Today reported that in a survey, in which 574 prison inmates participated in the US, 22 percent of them “admitted having committed a copycat crime; one out of five of these crimes were violent.”

In the Indian context, however, there's no comprehensive data on copycat crimes.

But, it’s also to be wondered if a certain pattern of crime has increased or if the media’s coverage of that pattern has increased following a bigger case of sorts. 

A research paper titled The Psychology Of Copycat Crime quoted Raymond Surette, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida, as saying,

“The issue with any of these splurges in crime is that you have to differentiate between an increase in reporting and an increase in crime.”

In the same paper, a criminal justice professor at Seattle University, Jacqueline Helfgott, stated, “Excessive media attention to a particular type of crime can be a risk factor for criminal behaviour.”

Dr Tilwe advises that while reporting on any case where incidents of brutal violence are involved, it's better not to dramatise or sensationalise them.

"More violence in the news gets more clicks and makes more money—whether or not more violent crimes really are happening."
The Psychology of Copycat Crime

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from fit

Published: 
Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More
×
×