You might be mad at Logan Paul for the wrong reason

If you haven’t heard yet by the explosive media coverage, people are a bit angry with Logan Paul because of a vlog he posted on YouTube that included footage of the dead body of a man who committed suicide in Aokigahara, Japan, often referred to as “Suicide Forest.” I’m not really a fan of Logan Paul’s lifestyle and choices, so I don’t follow him, but the public outcry made it next to impossible for me to ignore this, so I looked into it a bit more closely.

Although I agree with the general public and believe Logan Paul is in the wrong, I think most people are mad at Logan Paul for the wrong reasons. Here’s a breakdown of the situation, and reasons why people should and should not be upset with Logan Paul, through the eyes of someone with a background in criminal psychology.


Unjustified reason: Logan Paul’s laughter

Laughter is a complicated thing. In fact, it’s so complicated that there is an entire field of research dedicated to studying the psychology and physiology behind laughter – it’s called gelotology.

We’ve all witnessed awkward or nervous laughter – laughter that is prompted by cases of stress, discomfort, embarrassment, trauma, and/or pain. The physiological source of this kind of laughter is completely different – nervous laughter comes from the nose and/or throat, while joyful laughter comes from diaphragm contractions. It’s prevalent enough in everyday life that I’m actually surprised this many people are so unempathetic such that they are claiming Logan Paul is laughing out of amusement instead of nervousness … but then again, this may also be a case of bandwagoning.

Sometimes, there is a disconnect between how our body wants to feel and how our brain actually feels. Neuroscientific studies show that when we en­counter something traumatic, our brains often trigger nervous laughter as a way to attempt to convince ourselves that the awful thing we are wit­nessing isn’t actually that awful. To keep things simple, this is a coping mechanism.

The most famous study demonstrating nervous laughter is Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment, in which subjects (the “teachers”) were instructed to electrocute experiment insiders (the “learners”) every time the “learner” got a quiz question incorrect. Of course, the electrocution on the “learner” was fake, but they were told to act as if they were in terrible pain.

The test subjects laughed at the cries and screams for help not because they were sadistic, but because they were unsure of what to do. The discomfort they experienced while they were having an internal mental dilemma – whether to continue electrocuting the “learner,” or defy the authority of the principal researcher – prompted them to laugh in order to relieve some of the stress.

Seeing a dead body is no joke for most people, and for someone like Logan Paul, it’s likely that this was the first time he ever saw a dead body “out on the field” (as opposed to in a controlled environment, like a funeral). He was laughing because his body was put in a shocking situation and it didn’t know what else to do. We shouldn’t be hating him because his body engaged in an uncontrollable physiological reaction.


Inconclusive reason: Displaying a dead body

It’s easy to skip this topic by saying “displaying shocking images is against YouTube’s terms of service” and disregard this entire argument, but I think this is important.

Culture is a powerful force. So powerful, in fact, that it basically determines what is okay and not okay to do. Cultures can vary substantially across different regions – that’s why culture shock exists. Sometimes, culture is so dramatically different that something considered to be inherently bad in one culture is not inherently bad in another.

Japanese culture sees suicide very differently than other cultures.

Have you ever heard the meme “commit sudoku”? It’s often accompanied with an image of a dead man with a bloody sudoku board carved into his chest. The origin of this meme is an ironic representation of the confusion of the word “sudoku” with “seppuku,” a Japanese term describing an honorable, ritualistic suicide by disembowelment. The fact that such a concept even exists in Japan should be a clear indication that Japanese views on suicide are very different than American views.

The Japanese government is taking steps to ensure suicide rates go down in Japan, but public demonstrations of seppuku have been done as recently as 1970 by Yukio Mishima after a failed coup d’état. Those who were raised in, or are familiar with, that era have non-negligible exposure to a culture accepting suicide, as long as it is done in an honorable manner.

An example of a suicide that may be considered honorable is if a man is unable to support his family due to unemployment. According to his inter­pre­tation, he would have believed he did the right thing by taking his own life because he was being a disservice to his family; consequently, he is allowing his wife to remarry with a more financially stable man, resulting in a brighter future for his children.

To Americans, a story like this would be catastrophic and heartbreaking. To some Japanese, especially members of older generations, this is considered tolerable behavior.

This is not at all an argument claiming that it is okay to show this man’s body because he is Japanese. We may never know the circumstances sur­round­ing his suicide, and there is no guarantee that he committed suicide with honorable intentions. Just because he was found in a public forest does not automatically mean he intended for his suicide to be a public event.

I stand by the philosophy that we should respect his privacy and conceal his body. However, it is important to note that we should not be quick to generalize our thoughts on all situations, as unexpected things – like wildly differing cultural views – can introduce strange twists. Just because you and I think one way does not mean the rest of the world thinks the same way.


The most concerning reason: Logan Paul may be increasing suicide rates

To keep things simple, talking about suicide increases suicide.

That is obviously grossly oversimplified, but the point remains the same – research has shown that poor media coverage of suicide increases suicide rates. The more detailed the coverage, the higher the chance of suicide rates increasing. Once suicide methods and photos are introduced, rates skyrocket relative to other types of coverage (known as the dose-response relationship).

By providing video coverage of this Japanese man’s suicide in his vlog, Logan Paul is exposing his fans to a trigger that has been scientifically proven to increase suicide rates in those with risk factors. Adolescents suffering from depression and anxiety are most in danger – which happens to be the age group in which most of Logan Paul’s fanbase is presumed to reside.

Another issue of Logan Paul’s methodology of coverage is the lack of depth of discussion. Excluding cases of youth impulse, most instances of suicide are a culmination of a massive number of problems. Poor coverage of suicide events may misattribute the motivation behind suicide to something superficial or simple, thus implicitly reporting that suicide may be an option for single-faceted problems. Although Logan Paul attempts to discourage his audience from engaging in suicide, it is done with relatively low emotional depth; it is critical to balance out the negativity of the suicide story with stories of hope and recovery.

(As a disclaimer, there is some degree of generalization happening here when applying the findings of these studies to this scenario. Most conclusive studies investigate suicides by notable public figures who may have had a following, putting followers at risk for imitation. In this video, Logan Paul is reporting on an anonymous man, which may provide a sufficient disconnect between the suicide victim and the viewer such that this research could possibly be inapplicable.)

While doing some supplementary research and fact checking while composing this piece, I ran into a website called that goes further in depth on the topic of the media inadvertently increasing suicide rates. If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomenon and finding out how you can avoid it in your own coverage (even if it’s just commenting about it on social media), I recommend you check out their website.

In summary, if you’re mad at Logan Paul for his actions, your emotions are probably justified. However, instead of being mad just because everyone else is mad, it’s important to reflect and understand the real reasons why you should feel the way you do.