The latest edition of The Psychologist has a fantastic article on the psychology of horror, taking in everything from the popularity of cultural themes like zombies and vampires to research into the enjoyment of slasher films.
It’s a really comprehensive look at the both the psychological concept, the feeling of horror, and where its origins may lie in our evolutionary and cultural past, as well as numerous studies on how we react to fear and horror, both in real life and in entertainment.
This bit particularly caught my eye.
Related to this is the ‘snuggle theory’ – the idea that viewing horror films may be a rite of passage for young people, providing them with an opportunity to fulfil their traditional gender roles. A paper from the late 1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert Mundorf and others found that male undergrads paired with a female partner (unbeknown to them, a research assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as much if she showed distress during the film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said they enjoyed the film more if their male companion appeared calm and unmoved. Moreover, men who were initially considered unattractive were later judged more appealing if they displayed courage during the film viewing.
Surely asking people to watch horror films with a companion who is secretly working with psychologists to study your reactions to fear is a fantastic plot for a horror film.
Yours for only $1 million Wes Craven.
Link to ‘The Lure of Horror’ in The Psychologist.
Declaration of interest: I’m an unpaid associate editor and occasional columnist for The Psychologist. I avoid exploring abandoned houses on the edge of town.