Lurid topics such as serial killers, black magic and vampires are just as likely to interest so-called "normal people" as mentally ill criminals, a study has discovered.
In fact, a fascination in many "deviant" subjects, including Hitler, mass murderers, and the paranormal is more likely in stable citizens than psychologically disturbed offenders, according to the report.
Dr Vincent Egan, a chartered clinical psychologist from the East Midlands Centre for Forensic Mental Health, believes television, newspapers and books have whetted people's appetites for macabre subjects. He said: "A sub-culture of people interested in lurid things seems to have developed."
In the study, 142 people - from fishermen and nurses, to students and security guards - were questioned on whether they had an interest in certain topics, along with 54 mentally disordered offenders, whose crimes can range from shoplifters to murderers. While lurid and violent interests have generally been associated with offenders such as the Moors murderer Ian Brady, who was obsessed with Nazism, the findings showed that the "sane" people were more interested in some deviant subjects.
The expressed greater interest in he paranormal, Hitler and fascism, and serial killers, with a similar level of interest in vampires and werewolves, tattoos and body piercing, black magic and paganism.
Dr Egan, who prevented his findings at the British Psychological Society's division of criminological and legal psychology annual conference in Cambridge yesterday, concluded that the results show that you cannot assume that someone who has lurid or sensational interests also has a deviant personality.
As examples of a growing interest in bizarre, sensational, and violent material he pointed to the Internet websites were people could look at picture of surgical operations, magazines about the paranormal and the occult, and best-selling books on mass murderers.
He said that people traditionally associated these subjects with psychologically damaged people. As an example, he said he had a patient who used to bite her tongue so that she could drink her blood like a vampire and used to correspond with an American serial killer. "An awful lot of people want to know about serial killers and this study shows that you don't necessarily have a personality disorder just because you have an interest in this subject."
Dr Egan intends to carry out further research into this subject, but is considering asking whether people are interested in flying saucers and little green men rather than keeping rats and spiders.