Terribly interesting: why do we watch horror movies

Dark rainy night, popcorn, a loved one near by — so great to see something creepy. But why? Why do we like fear?

Анастасия Максимова

Anastasia Maksimova


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Anastasia Maksimova
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Страшно интересно: зачем мы смотрим фильмы ужасов

Fear is something that has accompanied humanity throughout our evolutionary path. In many respects fear has become a key engine of evolution. We were afraid of predators and have learned to hide from them, we were afraid of snakes and poisonous spiders and learned to distinguish them in the tall grass, we were afraid of natural disasters and learned to build a fortified dwelling. Fear has made us effective.

A scientist named Nobuo Masataka, a Japanese primatologist, has found that children under 3 years the screen is much easier to distinguish images of snakes than, for example, colors. Our brain still remains largely a brain of a monkey that does not know that we live in a civilized society, and that a robber with a knife is much more dangerous than cave lion (who also died). Researcher Christopher Koch found that the amygdala (a brain area that is responsible for stress and emotional responses) is much more intense respond to the image of a lion than on pictures with weapons or people in the Balaclava, although what is the chance that we will kill a huge predator on the way to work?
That is why we are so afraid of animal traits in the monsters from the screens: they have sharp teeth, body shape often resembles more animal than human. Hence the fear of being eaten alive — he also accompanied us for thousands of years. So in horror movies meet vampires or characters like Hannibal Lecter.

Three ingredients

But the funny thing is that while watching a horror movie… we are not scared. That is, we’re not scared really. Nightmares do not activate amygdala — proved Thomas Straub. That is as it may seem to us that we’re scared, in fact we know that it’s not real.

Psychologist Glenn Walters identifies three components of the attractiveness of horror films:

  • stress — what causes us to freeze in anticipation of the horror that keeps us in suspense;
  • relevance — the film should be what is called a “hit you where it hurts”. There are things are afraid of everything, like death. There are those who fear people of a certain cultural group and have individual fears that we acquire in connection with our personal life experiences;
  • unreality. Strange, isn’t it? Despite the fact that modern movies tend to be more realistic, one of the important conditions that the film we will like what we from the beginning will know that this is all make-believe.

Why are we watching them?

Aristotle believed that, having gone through with the hero of the grief or loss, the viewer or the reader reaches enlightenment he acts out his aggression, getting rid of her. This is the state of enlightenment Aristotle called “catharsis”. The problem is that modern scientists have shown an inverse relationship: when watching dark movies fear and aggression only intensified.

Bad — bad — good

Psychologist Dolf Zillman developed the “theory of excitation transfer”, according to which our sense of satisfaction and joy when the hero reaches the happy ending, the stronger, the worse the horrors that he had to overcome. That is, we literally change the polarity we experience feelings we are so scared, until the hero of attacking zombies, and the joy we feel at the end of the zombie Apocalypse, the same intensity as our fear.

But those films where there is no happy ending? Where zombies devour a hero?

Researcher of the cinema Noel Carroll, in his work “Paradox of horror” suggested that all the matter in ordinary human curiosity. The horror movie tries to prove to the audience that the unreal is real. Fear is not our usual sense. At least, the fear of monsters. And we love all the unusual and rare.

Stress under control

Great be afraid when you’re sitting safe in front of a computer screen or TV and know exactly what the monster’ll never come out. So you can test the boundaries of their anxiety in a safe controlled environment. And deal with it.
When it gets too scary you can close your eyes or put the movie on pause, giving yourself the opportunity to rest and do some more popcorn. That is, you can always stop being afraid, when she wants it. Thus we learn to cope with real problems, get acquainted with your fear. By the way, this is not a bad way to learn emotional regulation.

Social element

What horror movies are so nice to look at: to banter over one another or turn away and ask a neighbor: “is that all? Is he gone?” Andrew Tudor wrote: “People will run, to jump during the shocking events on the screen, hold your breath, break out a nervous laugh. All this is seen in the audience of horror films and is considered a sign that the film was a success. In fact, the collective manifestation of these “symptoms” — part of the process by which social meaning creates a pleasant experience of watching horror movies, which is a mandatory aspect of the specific symptom in this situation. Young audiences learn how to behave in such a way as to get pleasure from observing the manifestation of the appropriate reactions.”

Theories of why we are so passionate about horror movies, many — and they are all somehow incomplete. Most likely, the reasons for our preferences need to look around the complex of these theories.