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The Psychology Behind Our Love For Horror

Everyone has that friend who is completely obsessed with horror films and the macabre; and if you don't have a friend like that, then it's probably you. But one has to ask why do some people enjoy being scared while others don't? It's not as if our bodies are designed to enjoy it. On the contrary, fear is a chemical response in your brain to the potential for harm. It's not the thing that will actually harm us that creates a fear response but rather it is lead-up to the event. So if you hear smashing glass during the night the sound alone isn't going to harm you but nonetheless, your brain starts to produce a cocktail of chemicals, and you feel scared. So it has to be asked who the hell enjoys feeling that is same as if they are about to come to harm? Well, let's find out.

To try and understand this oddity of human behavior three psychologists from Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania did an experiment back in 1994. They showed a bunch of college students three documentary videos. The first showed cows being killed and butchered in a slaughterhouse; the second clip depicted a live monkey being struck in the head with a hammer having its skull cracked open and its brain served as a dessert; the third clip showed a child's facial skin being turned inside out in preparation for surgery. It makes me nauseous just writing that stuff, so it's not surprising that ninety percent of the students in the study turned the videos off before reaching the end. Everyone in the study said that they found the imagery deeply disturbing. However, these same individuals will gladly pay to see much gory and horrific stuff if being shown at the cinema.

The psychologists running the experiments came up with the conclusion that it's the unrealism of horror movies that makes them different. The vast majority of people who watch horror are aware that the action on screen isn't real and this puts a psychological distance between the viewer and the traumatic events unfolding on the screen.

If you do believe that what you see in horror films is real then you are a psychopath and you probably shouldn't be allowed outside after dark. In fact, evidence shows that younger viewers of horror films are more negatively affected because they are more likely to believe in the movie's realism.


According to research titled Adolescents Motivations for Viewing Graphic Horror published by Dr. Deirdre Johnston, not every horror fun is the same. There are essentially two different types of people who enjoy feeling scared. The first are gore seekers. These people usually have low empathy levels and seek out sensational content. The research also noted that these kinds of people tend to identify strongly with the killer in a movie. The second kind of horror fans are individuals with high empathy levels and therefore identify themselves more with the victim. These people enjoy the suspense of the film and therefore tend to watch more thrillers rather than gore. Maybe there's little more to it than the fact that we enjoy a thrill. Watching someone being chased down the street in their pajamas by an axe-wielding maniac is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Will he get away? Won't he? If he's wearing slippers, then probably not.

It's the same reason some people enjoy rollercoaster ride. It takes us out of our comfort zone - a blood-pumping break from the monotonous normality of everyday life. In fact, statistics show a correlation between thrill seekers who enjoy roller coasters (and other crazy things like bungee jumping) to those who enjoy a good horror film. They tend to be the same lot of people.


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