A new study posits that those who are partial to the odd slasher or zombie flick are coping better than those who prefer a nice relaxing rom com.
Published earlier this month in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the study was done by researchers from the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University and Aarhus University in Denmark. It draws on the explanation for why people may engage in frightening fictional experiences – that those experiences may act as “simulations of actual experiences from which individuals can gather information and model possible worlds.”
The study, conducted during the pandemic, tested whether past and present engagement with “thematically relevant” fictional media such as horror films resulted in a greater resilience and preparedness towards the pandemic. Researchers gathered 310 participants from the United States at the end of April. Those participants were then asked about both the types of movies and TV shows they enjoyed and their emotional state throughout the pandemic – such as if they feel “more depressed than usual” during the pandemic or have been “taking news about the pandemic in stride”.
“We found that fans of horror films exhibited greater resilience during the pandemic and that fans of “prepper” genres (alien-invasion, apocalyptic, and zombie films) exhibited both greater resilience and preparedness. We also found that trait morbid curiosity was associated with positive resilience and interest in pandemic films during the pandemic,” the paper reads.
“Taken together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.”
Researchers explained that while people primarily consume frightening material for entertainment purposes, horror fiction allows viewers to “practice grappling with negative emotions in a safe setting”.
“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.”
However, researchers also say that if you know horror films make you anxious, forcing yourself to engage with scary material probably isn’t a great idea.
You can read the paper in full here.