There’s something about sitting down with some buttery popcorn, which is nonnegotiable, and watching a movie. There’s really nothing like it. All movies provide a sense of escapism for people, but horror movies take the escapism to the next level.
I didn’t always enjoy horror movies. When I was younger, my mother bribed me with a piece of cake to see a horror movie (“The Grudge” if you’re interested), and I was terrified. However, in high school, I developed a taste for the finer parts of horror films.
Horror has become extremely prevalent within our society with television shows like “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead” and movies such as “It” and “The Conjuring” breaking records.
People love horror.
And, believe it or not, there is actually quite a bit of psychology behind the reason that people enjoy horror. According to Dr. Glenn Sparks, who is a professor and associate head of the School of Communications at Purdue University, one of the reasons that people love horror so much is how they feel after the credits roll.
When you watch a horror film, your blood pressure rises along with your heart rate. Psychologically, you’re aroused, and this arousal lasts for a bit after the film. Which means, any feelings you experience, positive or negative, are intensified, according to Sparks. So since most of us go to the movies with friends, family or significant others, we have a positive experience, and are more likely to continue going back to horror films. This particular process is called the excitation transfer process.
In layman’s terms, there is something incredibly cathartic about being scared to death. You get scared, and then it’s over. Your fear is tangible and finite. And you feel an intense sense of relief when it’s over. I know I do. Every time I watch a horror film, I’m tense all the way through the climax, but when the big baddie is finally dead, I unclench and relax, and get vaguely uncomfortable with the final kiss, which is a whole different type of opinion piece.
Dr. Jeffery Goldstein, who is a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht, was quoted in an interview with IGN as saying, “You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects…[Horror films] provide a just resolution in the end. The bad guy gets it.” Goldstein seems to have hit the nail on the head.
Some people, according to Sparks, are more hypersensitive and thus are more likely to be unable to handle horror films. People who are more empathic are also less likely to enjoy horror films, according to an article on Concordia University at Saint Paul’s website. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that they relate too much to the characters, and thus feel more of their pain and fear than people who have less empathy.
So, next time you’re feeling stressed or zombie-like, pop some popcorn, again, seriously, nonnegotiable, grab some cool people and tune in to some horror films. After the credits, talk about the movie with your friends to keep your psychological buzz going. I promise you’ll feel much more relieved afterward.