CHICAGO — Do you enjoy a good horror movie that gets your blood pumping? Maybe you’re more of a “doomsday prepper” who imagines life in a zombie apocalypse. Whichever scary movie variety piques your interest, a new study finds it may be helping your mental toughness. Researchers say fans of horror films and other post-apocalyptic movies are handling the real life fear brought by the coronavirus pandemic better than others.
A team in the United States and Denmark finds horror flick enthusiasts are experiencing less psychological distress due to COVID-19. In addition to horror films, movies that fall into the “prepper genres” are also helping people mentally prepare for the disruptions they’re encountering every day. These genres include alien invasions, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios, and zombie films.
“Although most people go into a scary movie with the intention of being entertained rather than learning something, scary stories present ample learning opportunities,” study authors write in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. “Fiction allows the audience to explore an imagined version of the world at very little cost. Through fiction, people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practice their mind-reading and emotion regulation skills.”
COVID-19 is turning horror films into a learning tool
The study questions 310 participants about their movie preferences, seeing what types of unsettling entertainment they prefer. Researchers then asked 13 questions looking at the group’s emotional state during the pandemic.
Aside from the theater allowing people to deal with distress in a safe environment, study authors believe these movies are also giving people tips on dealing with their own personal crises.
“One reason that horror use may correlate with less psychological distress is that horror fiction allows its audience to practice grappling with negative emotions in a safe setting,” researchers suggest. “Experiencing negative emotions in a safe setting, such as during a horror film, might help individuals hone strategies for dealing with fear and more calmly deal with fear-eliciting situations in real life.”
A morbid curiosity
Participants also take part in a 24-item questionnaire which grades them on the Morbid Curiosity Scale. The exam gauges how much someone is interested in “unpleasant things” such as death or watching executions in medieval times.
Researchers find the most morbidly curious person is actually putting a positive spin on their time in quarantine. These respondents are more likely to watch a pandemic-themed movie while living in lockdown.
Lead author Coltan Scrivner from the University of Chicago explains that morbidly curious people aren’t necessarily enjoying the global pandemic. He adds that these individuals are just finding an interesting aspect of the crisis to focus their attention on.