Why Do We Love Scandals?

The way we gape and gawk at scandals tells us a lot more about human nature than do the scandals themselves. After all, what constitutes a scandal, anyway? The Guardian's Dean Burnett is fascinated by the public's reaction to Lance Armstrong's doping drama and Price Harry's naked photos:

The stories are mirror images of each other. Both feature high-profile, high-status males being caught with their pants down (literally, in Harry's case) in a very public way. But Lance Armstrong's scandal involves an individual who supposedly earned his incredible success through hard work and determination but is alleged to have broken the rules and cheated to get ahead (he continues to protest his innocence). Prince Harry, on the other hand, is someone who was born into success and can't shake off the idolisation of many members of the public no matter how hard he tries. And he has tried. Both seem to be occupying two ends of the same spectrum.

Why do we feel the need to tell everyone that the men "deserve what's coming to them" via Facebook and Twitter? Is it because of schadenfreude? An obsession with "justice," whatever that word really means? Or is it because of what Burnett calls "attribution bias," which is when "people say other people are at fault for something that, if in the same situation, they would do themselves"? Maybe it has something to do with our desire to label the unknown:

Much of this comes from people needing a definitive way to conceptualise such ambiguous matters. The human brain doesn't deal well with ambiguity, that's why visual illusions like the necker cube or classic faces/candlestick are either one or the other interpretation; the brain imposes structure on visually ambiguous images, but if there is more than one valid interpretation then it keeps changing between them. So when faced with uncertain scenarios, people may jump to a conclusion and stick to it before their minds get torn apart by uncertainty, like a robot encountering a logical paradox.

It's hard to see what the big deal is even if you play devil's advocate. Sure, it's illegal to use steroids — but are we going to take away all of the accolades that Adderall-reliant writers have earned? And sure, maybe it's not fitting for a prince to run around wasted in public, but isn't it worse to take naked photos of someone without their consent and sell them to a newspaper?

We love scandals because life is boring and drama livens things up, but also because people are judgmental, and power-hungry, and there's nothing more satisfying for many than feeling superior to the talented, lucky, and otherwise privileged. It's fascinating, but it's pretty gross, too.

Prince Harry, Lance Armstrong and the psychology of scandal [Guardian]