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Why Do People Like Horror Movies?

Scary movies are either something you adore or something you avoid at all costs. Logically, we should avoid things that make us fearful. However, horror films have a way of attracting a large audience. When you stop and think about it, it’s a little perplexing, but horror entertainment is a very popular genre. According to research and experts, there are several reasons why some people enjoy scary movies while others even find them strangely comforting.

According to a study published in the Journal of Media Psychology, people watch scary movies for three main reasons: tension, relevance, and unrealism. Because of the mystery and shock, watching scary movies can be an entire experience for some. Others are drawn to it because of its “relevance” and find elements in the film to which they can relate. Those who enjoy horror because of its “unrealism” do so because they know it’s all a ruse. It’s just pure entertainment and fun for them.

Why do we consume horror in the first place?

20th Century Studios/ BBC | The charm of horror only tempts the strong

One reason we watch horror is to be stimulated. Exposure to terrifying acts, or even anticipating them, can stimulate us, both mentally and physically, in opposing ways: negatively (in the form of fear or anxiety) or positively (in the form of excitement) (in the form of excitement or joy). Watching a horror movie, for example, activates both types of stimulation, with the most pleasure experienced at the most frightening moment. When we consume horror, the biochemical inside our bodies change as well. Fear can cause adrenaline to be released, resulting in heightened sensations and a surge of energy.

Another reason we seek horror is to broaden our horizons. Apocalypse horror films, for example, allow us to experience alternate realities ranging from zombie outbreaks to alien invasions. Some novel experiences, such as visiting a notorious haunted house, can even contribute to our sense of accomplishment. This type of adventure makes us feel more worldly or daring (not to mention grants us bragging rights).

Tufts/ Shutterstock | To a new world of gods and monsters!

Finally, horror entrainment may allow us to satisfy our curiosity about the dark side of the human psyche in a safe manner. After all, we might not have the chance to meet Hannibal Lecter or wander the streets during The Purge in real life. Many of us are fascinated by what our own species is capable of because we are an inherently curious species. Observing storylines in which actors are forced to confront their worst selves serves as a form of character study of the darkest aspects of the human condition.

Could watching horror movies be therapeutic?

A growing body of research suggests that horror films could be used in clinical settings to help people suffering from anxiety or trauma. A recent study, for example, found that people who watched horror movies were less psychologically distressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who liked the apocalyptic subgenre of horror felt better prepared for future waves of the pandemic.

Christian Jarrett/ Getty Images | With a box office intake of over $700 million, the $35 million Stephen King adaptation is the highest-grossing horror movie in history

If this is the case, mental health professionals could use horror movies and other media to help anxious patients develop emotional and behavioral strategies to cope with their fears, which could ultimately make them more resilient.

While those who do not enjoy horror will not benefit from this, studies show that watching horror movies is similar to exposure therapy for those who do. Although there is no direct evidence for this possibility, researchers are beginning to look into the therapeutic potential of horror films.

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