6 Scientific Reasons we like Horror Movies

Many of us flock to horror movies, we love the thrill of being scared and rush of adrenalin. Some of us know exactly why we like to watch movies that scare us, but scientists wanted to know, scientifically, why so many of us go out of our way and choose to have what many of us would describe as an unpleasent experience. This list is what some of them found.

(side note: if you're wondering why I didn't get this published with Cracked.com, like I did with my Teleportation article, well, they didn't go for it because, well, they though none of these were suprising. And, perhaps they're right, but I still thought it interesting, so, I wrote it up for my own site. Enjoy)


1) Novelty - Violence doesn't happen everyday.

This might seem obvious, but a professor at Purdue University, Glenn Sparks, says that one factor that attracts some people to violent or horror movies might simply be that they don't see things like that in their own life and they're just curious. This is the same effect when there is a car accident on the highway and EVERYONE slows down just to see what happened. This sometimes leads to more accidents, simply because some people (perhaps most of us) have a morbid curiosity of death and violence.


2) Asses the threat

The Orphanage, one of my
favorite horror movies.

Perhaps there is an evolutionary component to this morbid fascination. Professor Jeffrey Goldstein from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, says that mainly in males, horror movies provide a way to practice assessing threat levels. And this makes sense in the animal kingdom.  If you're a birder, you know that smaller birds will gang up on predatory birds like owls and hawks.  Small birds, and their eggs, can be prey to these larger predatory birds. So, if you follow my logic, these birds are actually going TOWARDS the danger. We might be doing the same thing when we see a car accident or all go see a really violent, scary movie. The more we all know about the "threat", the better we can all defend ourselves against it.




3) We like it when it hurts, and when the hurt stops

Are you a sadomasochist? A lot of you, perhaps most of you, said "Uh...no. No I am not." A) Because you have a normal sex life, and B) Because, of course, we assume we don't enjoy receiving or inflicting pain. Who would, right? I mean, it's pain. It hurts for a freekin' reason, so that we don't do it. In fact, there a some people born without the ability to feel pain, the extremely rare disorder (only 17 people have it in the United States) is called  "congenital insensitivity to pain". Without pain, we don't learn what is bad for us, like chewing our own tongue off.

But what about a little pain? Do some of us, perhaps most of us, enjoy a little bit of pain?

It's a relief when
Ripley kills the Alien.

The answer is yes, a lot of us, perhaps most of us, are unknowingly a bit masochistic. Eduardo Andrade and Joel B. Cohen (from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Florida, respectively) published a study that argues that the old idea that we can not experience pain and pleasure at the same time is false. That we can, in fact, experience negative and positive emotions at the same time.

But another study theorizes that perhaps it's not the pain itself we enjoy, but the knowledge that it will stop, and the relief when it does. Perhaps the good, pleasant feelings we enjoy on a "normal" day, feel even better right after a little bit of pain.


4) Victory over our enemy's

When is the last time you killed a lion with your bare hands like that one dude from The Ghost and the Darkness. Or, what about the time you defended your house from invaders from the next town? Or, how about that time you had to go rescue your buddy from ghostandthedarknessthose guys and really kicked their asses?!  Never? Yeah, me neither. Very few of us in modern day United States have these experiences. Sure, there are some of us who have these survival moments like those of us in the military or in the police force, but the rest of us don't ever get to feel the rush of adrenaline and bliss after having saved a life or our own. We don't ever have that intense fear of death by some foe, and conquer it, like our species used to.

Margaret "Peg" Burr , (MA, MFT), a psychologist in California,  says that we go to movies to experience this kind of excitement. The great part is, we get the feeling of conquering the evil bad guy, without ever actually being in any danger.


5) We Like strong emotions

The Thing is another favorite of mine.

Alan Hilfer, a psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in New York, argues that it could be as simple as the fact that we really like strong emotions, and fear is one of them. It has been said that war is 10% intense adrenaline and fighting, with about 90% boring crap and sitting around, waiting for the next fight. Life is sort of like that, only, most of us don't ever go to war. To be sure, life gets interesting when, say, you get married, or have a baby, or make a baby, or practice making a baby, or someone dies, or someone betrays you. All of that is very interesting. But...then it's over and you go back to living your daily life, and you just...keep living. This isn't a bad thing, life is good, don't get me wrong.

Sometimes we want a distraction, we want to be entertained, we want that extreme emotion we had when we had a baby, got married or someone died. You don't experience that everyday. Some people choose roller coasters, some people choose skydiving, or go for a swim, snorkeling with sharks (did that, reef sharks are curious fuckers), some people like to practice making babies in public (this gets you arrested sometimes). Most of us, however, watch movies. Movies that make us happy, make us laugh, make us cry, or, in this case, make us scared shitless. Why? Because we like it.


6) It’s Universal - Because everyone understands it


Star Wars: Reveng of the Sith,
the only PG-13 Star Wars
movie, and the only one to
feature a jedi murdering children.

George Gerbner, a professor of communication at the University of Southern California and later the University of Pennsylvania as well, argues that violence in movies, and by extension, horror, has a lot to do with global marketability, that it’s universal.

The all time, world wide box office sales tell us that most of the biggest movies are PG or PG-13 movies primarily in the action/adventure realm. It’s an impressive list, including all the Star Wars Prequels, Transformers, Harry Potter, Dark Knight & Rises, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ice Age, Twilight, etc... Notice anything about all these? Most of them have elements of horror. Don’t believe me? The Joker in the Dark Knight is a deranged psychopath who takes pleasure killing people with knives, the Ringwraiths from the Lord of the Rings are hooded, undead horsemen that come in the night, the undead Pirates of the Caribbean is a no brainer, Twilight, although not scary, has the classic horror vampire creatures, and hell, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith has the HERO murdering little jedi kids.

And because of the PG or PG-13 rating, parents will see them and bring their kids, and then the kids will see them several more times by themselves.(This is why Steven Spielberg pushed for a PG rating, instead of the original R rating, for his classic horror Poltergeist, because he knew the kids would see it multiple times in the theater.)

And Jurassic Park, perhaps not strictly a horror movie, yet with a similar plot as Jaws and also directed by Spielberg, is 21st on the list, and The Sixth Sense, a modern horror classic is 55th on the list.

Much of comedy is based on preconceived notions or paradigms, how we view our own culture. This is why inside jokes work so well.  We laugh at jokes about women running the household here in the United States because of the rise of feminism and the fight for equal rights. This is culturally relevant for us, therefore, we laugh at it. This same joke may not transfer as well to other cultures because, right or wrong, they may not have had the same cultural progression as we've had in our culture.

However, violence, terror and horror are universal. Punch someone in the face in Madison, Wisconsin, and it's still a punch in the face in London, or Tokyo. Torture someone brutally, show a ghost, a monster trying to eat some kids, a hooded, soulless horsemen looking for something in the night, a psychopath killing people with knives on the loose  or a scene of the living dead coming back to life, all of this is universally understood as scary. We all understand it and respond to it.  Basically, it's a cheap way to access a broader audience, and therefore, make more money.

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