With Halloween around the corner, many people will be preparing to sit down in front of their favourite scary flick.
But, why do some people love horror movies, while others can’t stand them?
“Psychologically speaking, there are a few reasons why we like to be scared,” explains Dr Malcolm Schofield, lecturer in psychology at the University of Derby, whose research interests include belief in the paranormal.
“However, we need to realise the difference between things that pose a real danger, and those that do not. So, Halloween and horror movies do not present a ‘real’ threat, but we have evolved to like this kind of fear.
“If our ancestors did not feel fear and run away from danger, they were more likely to be eaten by predators and not live long enough to pass their genes on,” he adds, explaining the theory behind fear sometimes being beneficial.
Keeping us on our toes
Schofield says there may be a sense of control that can come from watching scary movies, because we know “the fear is not real”. This could even be comforting for some people.
“[It’s] fear you can experience while being safe, so it can be quite cathartic and a good stress reliever, offering a distraction from everyday life,” adds Schofield. “The film builds the tension, and a person could feel relieved after the big jump scare surprise.”
The high levels of suspense can add to the enjoyment for fans too.
“They can make us anxious – you know something terrible will happen but don’t know when, which builds the tension,” explains Schofield. “It keeps us in suspense, so we need to know what happens next. And then the inevitable surprise comes.”Another thing Schofield notes is how watching horror movies “can produce an adrenaline rush, which might be addictive” to some viewers – who will go through “a roller-coaster of emotions that leads to a big adrenaline rush, which feels good to some”.Welcome to the dark side
Lowri Dowthwaite-Walsh, a psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, thinks there’s also something in the way scary movies give us a glimpse into subjects and behaviours we’re usually quite removed from.
“Horror films allow us to examine darker parts of the human psyche. This includes darker parts of ourselves that we dare not reveal but know are there, such as a fascination with death or crime, for instance,” explains Dowthwaite-Walsh. “Watching horror allows us to experience alternative realities that we may be curious about,” she adds.On the flipside…
Of course, not everyone gets the same sense of enjoyment from scary movies. “If you are more on the neurotic side and a worrier, it might increase your anxiety to an uncomfortable level,” says Schofield. “As with roller-coasters, not everybody enjoys horror films.”