What is the CSI Effect?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The CSI effect is a shift in social attitudes about forensic science attributed to the rise of television dramas featuring forensics in the early 2000s, including CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise. Some members of the law enforcement and forensics community argue that the prevalence of such shows has changed the way jurors think about forensic evidence and may also have an impact on criminal activity. The CSI effect has also been fingered for the rise of interest in forensic science and the increasing numbers of students in forensic science programs interested in pursuing careers in this field.

Increased interest in forensic science has been attributed to the CSI effect.
Increased interest in forensic science has been attributed to the CSI effect.

Television shows depicting forensics often show an idealized version of the science, complete with technology and techniques not widely available and sometimes not even in existence. People who regularly view such shows can come away with specific ideas about the reliability and integrity of forensic evidence. These ideas may lead jurors to expect to see more forensic evidence in trials or to weigh such evidence more heavily than they would otherwise. It can also create a false sense of confidence when it comes to understanding such evidence, leading jurors to make decisions in defiance of testimony provided during a trial.

The CSI effect has caused people to believe they can solve crimes on their own.
The CSI effect has caused people to believe they can solve crimes on their own.

Some people claim the CSI effect contributes to wrongful convictions as a result of jurors believing forensic evidence over other materials, even when the evidence is questioned. Others think it can contribute to false acquittals, as a crafty prosecutor can highlight apparent holes in the forensics, leading jurors to think the information presented is suspect. Much of the evidence for both sides is anecdotal and there is some debate about the impact of crime dramas on jurors.

Criminals may be influenced by the content on such shows to try and take steps to conceal crimes and make forensic evidence harder to uncover and use. Some people have suggested that the CSI effect should be a cause for concern, making it advisable to censor or alter the material presented in crime dramas to avoid giving criminals ideas. Others suggest the criminals have ample resources for research and doubt the influence of the CSI effect on successful investigation and prosecution of crimes.

Some forensic scientists feel that crime dramas can increase scientific literacy by exposing people to complex concepts, laying the groundwork for presenting material in court. Others believe it creates a false sense of confidence or a skewed image of forensic science. Evidence in the real world is rarely as perfect and neatly presented as it is on television, and jurors may not understand why evidence presented in court is sometimes unclear and inconclusive, but still valid and useful.

The CSI effect has caused more people to be interested in forensic techniques.
The CSI effect has caused more people to be interested in forensic techniques.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I highly doubt that watching CSI is going to help criminals hide evidence and get away with crime. I thought that the whole purpose of these shows were to send criminals the message that they won't be able to get away because there is always an evidence of their crime somewhere.

And perhaps real forensic technology is not as advanced as it is presented on the show, but it's still very advanced. It's a very serious profession that requires education in the sciences. How many criminals have the knowledge and means to pass that?

I agree that there is a CSI effect going on. But I don't think we need to worry about what criminals are getting out of the show. They should be getting a good lesson if anything.


I'm not too shocked to hear that there is something called "the CSI effect." The forensic evidence is the most exciting part about that show. Every case is like a puzzle and I love how one piece of evidence can help find the murderer.

Before these shows came out, I never knew what forensic science was about. I didn't even know what criminal investigators do. I actually told my mom that working in a lab and looking through evidence to find fingerprints and DNA are really cool. I would like to work in such a lab too.


I'm watching another show that's similar to CSI right now. It also shows how cases are solved by collecting evidence and using forensic science.

I would have never thought that these shows could impact how jurors make decisions. I'm sure that the people who made CSI never expected of such influence. If it can be proven that this is the case, that jurors make decisions based on their expectations about evidence because of these shows, than definitely things should change a little bit.

Maybe they can try to put less emphasis on forensic science and more emphasis on how law enforcement and criminal investigators think and work to solve crimes.

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