Could Death Obsession Explain 'Harry Potter' and 'The Hunger Games’ Craze?

the hunger games
The reason "The Hunger Games" and other popular young adult series are so popular may surprise you. (Image credit: Murray Close | Lionsgate)

WASHINGTON — Why are young adults so obsessed with "The Hunger Games," "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" fantasy series? Maybe it's because they're obsessed with death, some psychologists say.

There's been a trend among some of these books to include dark themes, such as death, Lance Garmon, a psychologist at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland, told Live Science here Saturday (Aug. 9), at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Garmon wanted to know, "Are they reading the books [and] watching the movies because they're drawn to the death aspect?" [The Science of Death: 10 Tales from the Crypt & Beyond

To find out, he and his colleagues gave college students surveys that measured their obsession with and anxiety about death and dying. They also surveyed the students about their consumption of the previously mentioned fantasy trilogies (both the books and the movies).

The surveys asked students how many times they had read the books or seen the movies, up to a maximum of six times. "Some people completely maxed out," Garmon said — "they had seen every movie six times and read every book six times.

The researchers found that students who were death-obsessed were more likely to read or watch the "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games" series and do so multiple times. Students who suffered from death anxiety were more likely to see the movies, but not necessarily to read the books.

Garmon and his colleagues did not find the same trend for the "Twilight" series, however. This could be because "Twilight" contains less emphasis on death and more emphasis on romance, the researchers said. Perhaps not surprisingly, more of the female students than male students in the study had read or watched "Twilight. 

The results suggest that young adults read books or watch movies that satisfy their deep-seated fascinations, whether it is death (in the case of "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games") or romance (in the case of "Twilight").

The findings fit in with a larger theory of media consumption that says people are drawn to the kinds of media that give them internal satisfaction, such as things that reinforce their political views, the researchers said.

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.