Recently, I’ve been binging Sam and Colby’s YouTube videos where they investigate haunted places in America and Canada. I absolutely despise watching horror movies. However, I realized that I like real-life people investigating these haunted places. Although I feel scared watching these videos, I feel safe in the comfort of my own home. But, I began to wonder why people like this sort of stuff. Like, what gives? Why do so many of us go out of our way and consume frightening entertainment?
The psychology behind people liking horror movies and scary videos
There is some kind of thrilling rush.
Horror movies are movies. They’re fictional. However, watching them can trigger a non-fictional fight-or-flight response. Experts also say that the brain doesn’t always distinguish between fantasy and reality completely effectively. It’s like when someone is describing biting into a lemon. Your salivary glands will activate and you will actually feel the sourness seeping into your tongue.
The same thing can happen when watching horror movies. The brain forgets that what you’re watching isn’t a real danger. Then, it charges up the physiological response that would remain appropriate if it were. So, your body goes into a fight-or-flight mode, flooding with adrenaline and euphoria-inducing brain chemicals like endorphins and dopamine.
It’s scary but you’re also safe.
Much like I described earlier, I feel scared when watching Sam and Colby investigate haunted places. At the same time, I feel safe in my own home. I feel a rush of adrenaline from watching these scary videos. However, I know I’m not in actual danger when I’m watching.
Experts say that seeing scary things in a controlled environment and that’s something we all crave. It’s like when a toddler learns to walk. They run away from the parent before getting to a certain point where it’s a little scary. Then, they would run back. It’s about playing with danger but with a sense of security.
Despite the absence of any real threat, many people still feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish a horror movie or a series of scary videos. It’s dealing with something that was outside of my comfort zone and it makes me feel like I conquered it. It gives me confidence.
Getting a glimpse of how life-threatening situations might play out.
Horror movies give you a glimpse at how life-threatening might play out. Despite it being fictional, it makes you feel more prepared for actual danger. Experts say horror movies try to learn to predict the world around you. What do those characters do, even if they’re fictional, when they’re in this kind of situation? What do other people do when they find themselves facing some particular kind of threat or challenge?
Teaching how to cope.
Experts also say that watching horror movies and scary videos helps you practice coping strategies. People who watch them a lot are learning how to deal with uncertainty, suspense, and anxiety. Horror fans are more resilient and less psychologically distressed than non-horror fans, especially in the face of today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Especially because of their well-honed coping skills.
Aside from that, experts also point out that horror fans build a toolkit for how they deal with feeling anxious or afraid. Because that’s exactly what you’re doing when watching a horror movie. Viewers regulate your emotions such that you’re in a sweet spot for feeling afraid. But, you’re also having fun.
Exploring one’s dark side.
Experts say that everyone has unknowable parts of themselves that they think are kind of externalized into dangers outside of us. One reason people might be drawn to horror allows us to explore those taboo parts of ourselves. Sometimes, viewers relate to characters. For example, in the movie Carrie, a lot of people identify with her being bullied and tormented at school and at home. It makes people question whether or not you’re going to root with her slaughtering her classmates.
When we experience heightened levels of fear, we often seek comfort in facing these issues head-on.
Personally, I believe in the paranormal and it, sometimes, scares me. The only reason why I believe in them is that I’ve had experiences before that made me believe in them. I know that there are spirits around us every single day. I also believe that some of them are friendly. However, some of them are not.
So, watching these kinds of videos allow me to face this fear head-on. Watching these paranormal videos allows me to satiate the fear. For me, knowledge is power. You have to understand, confront, and know everything about your worst possible fear. Safety has always remained at the forefront of our minds when we watch horror movies and scary videos about serial killers, murderers, ghosts, and other entities.
Aside from that, there is also an element of escapism. This might sound strange when talking about the paranormal. However, there is something that experts think people understand although there is a perceived threat, often the reality remains minuscule. We allow ourselves to escape into a very compelling, awful but exciting story. So, we just enjoy it for what it is at a distance.
Understanding the psychology behind watching horror movies and scary videos allows us to enjoy the genre more. At the very least, we should get our psychological protective frame ready before consuming these kinds of media.
Angela Grace P. Baltan is a Communication graduate from Colegio de San Juan de Letran. She doesn’t hesitate to be opinionated in analyzing movies and television series. As a writer, she uses her articles to advocate for feminism, gender equality, and mental health among others.