Why We Love To Be Scared

The Science Behind Why You Like Watching Horror Movies, It’s Spooktacular

Released in 2017, horror movie It sits on the Box Office Mojo’s top lifetime grossing films list, earning over $328 million, giving it the title of one of the highest-grossing horror movies in history. 

It doesn’t stop there though, according to thrillist.com, over 68 horror films were released last year. From clowns to zombies, ghosts and ghouls, it’s clear we have a penchant for all things scary.

But have you ever wondered why all of a sudden your heart beat rapidly increases or you get a sudden urge to check your surroundings? 

We’ll be looking into all of this and why we love watching horror movies.

Why Do People Watch Scary Movies? 

According to a study conducted by the Journal of media psychology, there are three main reasons as to why people like to watch horror movies: 

  1. Tension
  2. Relevance
  3. Unrealism. 

Tension

Some may watch horror movies as they simply enjoy various attributes and eventual catharsis which come together to create a heightened sense of arousal. The rollercoaster of emotions is all part of the appeal for this audience. 

Relevance 

Another factor of horror movies which attracts people is the relevance of them, the parts of the movie that people can relate to. 

Unrealism

And some fancy the unrealistic aspect of the genre. As they know it’s fake it allows them to enjoy the film as a piece of fiction, purely for entertainment. It also offers a form of escapism. 

What Happens When You Watch A Horror Movie? 

person under a plastic bag
Photo by Dark Indigo on Pexels.com

Whilst watching a horror movie, you may experience the following physical reactions: 

  • Increased heart rate
  • Goosebumps 
  • Tense muscles 
  • Sweaty palms
  • Screaming
  • Drop in skin temperature
  • Spikes in blood pressure. 

These are just some of the ways you may find yourself reacting to a particularly scary movie and it’s completely normal. It’s the body and brain’s way of coping with what you’re feeling. 

Here’s The Science

Some people enjoy horror movies much more than others, and this is based on your chemical makeup. Dr Zald of Vanderbilt University notes those who tend to like horror movies are most likely to have fewer autoreceptors and more dopamine. Whilst those who avoid horror movies have more autoreceptors and less dopamine. He concludes, those who like watching scary movies have a higher tolerance and desire for risk. 

A study published in the Journal Communication Research found that people who enjoy horror movies tend to like experiencing intense emotions such as fear. Horror movies can help to stimulate the brain, and when you experience fear the body can go into fight or flight mode, which is why you may find your heart rate accelerating or a scream slipping out. “Fear” is deemed to be a negative emotion, however for some people, this is a pleasant feeling. 

As the research paper, The Aesthetics and Psychology Behind Horror Films explains, this is because:

Our adrenaline rushes because of the excitement and fear of anticipating when a killer strikes in the movie. By also recalling the physiological arousal when our blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate increases after the movie ends—tension is released. We come out of the movie theatre and criticize that it’s a “bad movie” if it was not “scary enough” because we enjoy it as our muscles become tense and our palms become sweaty.

The Aesthetics and Psychology Behind Horror Films

D…D…Dopamine

By now, we know the importance of dopamine. It seems to pop up everywhere. But what role does dopamine play in experiencing fear? 

Well, dopamine is a feel-good chemical and based on a paper by the Concordia University Saint Paul, “horror entertainment can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which comes with a boost in adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine while viewers are in a safe place.” Furthermore, the brain can decipher whether or not the surroundings are safe or a real threat – this adds to the experience. Once the physical reactions of feeling fear begin to fade, they are replaced with a flood of positive emotions of intense relief. 

Close Connection

Have you ever watched a horror film on a date? 

It’s not just a way for your date to sneakily put their arm around you and comfort you in scream-worthy moments, but there’s some science to it…

According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Dr Arthur Aron, watching a horror movie can help to increase the attraction between two people and bring them closer together. Dr Brownlowe of Ohio State University notes “It draws us closer when we have a shared experience of being afraid of the dark, or ghouls, or axe murderers.” Feeling frightened creates a sense of vulnerability and it can help two people to feel closer together. 

There’s your next date night sorted. 

So next time you’re settling in at the cinema or your couch to watch the newest horror, take a moment to consider what’s going on in your brain. 

Check out some of our other posts:

Sources Cited: 

https://www.boxofficemojo.com/chart/top_lifetime_gross/?ref_=bo_cso_ac

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0093650209356441?legid=spcrx%3B37%2F2%2F167&patientinform-links=yes&

https://digitalcommons.liu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=post_honors_theses#:~:text=We%20watch%20scary%20movies%20because,%E2%80%9Cpurge%E2%80%9D%20our%20aggressive%20emotions

https://www.vanderbilt.edu/psychological_sciences/bio/david-zald

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1975-03016-001

https://www.academia.edu/7926417/Psychological_Appeal_Driving_the_Popularity_of_Ultra_Violent_Horror_Films

Sajal Azam

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