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Good Question: Why Can’t We Look Away From ‘Train Wrecks’?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
Heather Brown loves to put her innate curiosity to work to answer yo...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Sunday night’s NCAA basketball game between Duke and Louisville took a terrible turn when Louisville guard Kevin Ware fell awkwardly and broke his right leg in two places. The video was so disturbing that the networks stopped showing it.

Even Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s stomach nearly turned.

“I saw what it was and I literally almost threw up,” Pitino said.

But millions of people went to YouTube to watch the clip online even after seeing how the accident left players, coaches and fans in tears.

This behavior didn’t surprise Wake Forest English professor Eric Wilson.

“More horrific events have caused the internet to shut down for hours at a time,” Wilson said.

He cites the horrible beheadings that were put online in the beginning of the Iraq War.

Dr. Wilson wrote a book called “Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away.” In his book, he interviewed such subjects as a man who sold the art of serial killers and an obituary collector. Wilson followed what’s called the “dark tourism industry” that exists in places like the 9th Ward of New Orleans, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“There’s actually a lot of reasons, ranging from expressions of what is worst in us to what is best in us,” he said.

First, Wilson says there’s a biological reaction.

“Our heart rate goes up, our body releases chemicals. We really do get a sick thrill, a cheap titillation,” he said.

Wilson says we all have kind of morbid curiosity within us. Sometimes it can be positive, like when Princess Diana died.

“Suddenly this is an opportunity where we can feel like a community of people all feeling sorry for the same person,” he said.

But often, the thrill is closely followed by the not-so-moral reasons: relief it wasn’t you in a car accident or a feeling you are better than a celebrity whose gone wild.

“I think it kind of makes us feel a little better about ourselves when the mighty fall down,” he said.

Wilson says while everyone has been biologically shown to get some sort of rush, not everyone will watch bad stuff. Some people are too easily disgusted or grossed out – which can be attributed to the way they were raised or their life experiences.

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