In a dark, cold room with sweaty palms, a sinking feeling takes hold. Watching the killer creep closer and closer, your heart rate increases and your muscles tighten. You hear a piercing scream and quickly cover your eyes. Then the lights go up, and you find yourself gripping your chair. Looking around, you see rows of chairs. Popcorn is scattered on the floor, and the credits roll on the big screen in front of you. Horror movies bring viewers from all over the world, but is this healthy?
When we become scared while watching a horror movie, it can affect the viewer in big ways. “The fear reaction, especially for anger and fear, begins in the Amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the temporal lobe of the brain.” Sharon Griffin , a Psychology teacher at San Jacinto College said . “This activates the flight-or-fight response in the Sympathetic Nervous System, which triggers the release of stress hormones to help prepare our body to deal with the stressor(s) in an efficient manner. Along with the Amygdala, the Hippocampus, which is closely connected, helps to evaluate and interpret the perceived threat.” Griffin Said.
The reason why some people find horror movies fun (while others find them terrifying), can be attributed to the Emotion Theory. “[The Emotion Theory] states that our interpretation of the physiological cues can be different from person to person. “ Said Griffin. She compares watching horror movies to riding a roller coaster, “If you don’t enjoy roller coasters, you may experience distress rather than excitement.”
Depending on the individual, horror movies can cause a myriad of side effects, one of the most notable being anxiety. “[Anxiety] can be dependent on the individual, in terms of severity and longevity of the anxiety.” Griffin Said. Research does indicate that the more horror movies watched by children under the age of 14 have an increased likelihood of developing anxiety conditions later on in adulthood. Anxiety can cause nervousness, sweating or even an increase in heart rate. Another noticeable side effect is sleeplessness. “A person might toss and turn all night due to experiencing anxiety while watching a horror movie,” Griffin said, which can result in trouble sleeping and cause nightmares.
Personal experiences can negatively effect an individual who watches horror movies because it helps create new fears through association. In Psychology, this is called Classical Conditional. For instance, watching the movie “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock may develop into a terrifying fear of birds years later. “Movies like this can have a grave detrimental effect on a person’s mental health.” Said Griffin. Another example is if someone has been in a serious car accident, they may recall events in “Final Destination,” because of the trauma they experienced.
Although these affects are negative, there are some positive as well. “One positive outcome of horror movies is experiencing desensitization.” Said Griffin. For example, if someone is afraid of clowns, watching horror movies with clowns in it like “It” may help reduce the fear by being continuously exposed to it.
Horror movies are known to elicit fear, that is their purpose. But despite their terrifying reputation, there are positive things that can come out of them, too. So next time you’re invited to watch a horror movie, maybe you’ll take up the offer instead of passing it up. You might have a scary good time.