A new study by University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University and Aarhus University academics has examined how exposure to apocalyptic horror films affects a person’s mental and emotional resilience, and their feeling of preparedness, toward the coronavirus pandemic. And it appears binge-watching your favourite horror films is an excellent way to prepare for 2020’s awful turn of events.
Psychologist Coltan Scrivner from the University of Chicago told Express.co.uk they had found those who enjoy these films may have “an adaptive predisposition [to] learning about the dangerous and disgusting aspects of a threat.”
We found people who had watched or considered themselves fans of horror films, experienced less psychological distress during the pandemic
He said: “We found people who had watched or considered themselves fans of horror films, experienced less psychological distress during the pandemic.
“Here psychological distress is defined as lower incidence of feelings of anxiety or depression, or loss of sleep, irritability, things like that.
“And then if you zoom in and look at the sub-genres of horror, you see people who consider themselves fans of what we call ‘preppers’ genres – things like zombie films or alien invasion films or apocalyptic films – and of the world social chaos type-films experience less psychological distress, but they also experience greater preparedness or greater feelings of preparedness.
Coronavirus study: Horror film fans and the ‘morbidly curious’ are dealing better with the pandemic
Participants were given statements and then were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with them.
Examples of such statement included: “I was mentally prepared for a pandemic like the coronavirus pandemic”, and “I was able to predict how bad things would get due to coronavirus before it really took off”.
The study’s third discovery was people who are morbidly curious – defined as an interest or a motivation to learn about threats or danger – experienced greater positive resilience.
PhD student Mr Scrivner, whose favourite horror film is The Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake, said: “Finding the positive resilience has more to do with being able to experience positive emotions during the pandemic and having a positive outlook on the future.
“If you gave them the statement ‘I feel positive about the future’ – people who are morbidly curious would more strongly agree with that than people who are not.
“So it’s similar to negative resilience in some ways, in that it helps you sort of cope with the pandemic but it’s a different kind of resilience.”
However, the researcher added the study was not designed to test a causal explanation.
He said: “It’s not like we’re saying ‘go watch The Exorcist in time for wave two’.
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“That may be the case but our study doesn’t test that.
“However, there does seem to be some evidence that for whatever reason, this does seem to be somewhat specific to horror movies and somewhat specific morbid curiosity.”
The psychologist added he believes the explanation for the phenomena is due to both horror films’ ability to prepare for the worst and the type of persona attracted to the genre.
He said: “There’s some things that you can learn better from horror movies than others.
“So for example, if you watch the movie Contagion, it’s shockingly similar to what’s going on at a societal level.
“Certainly, it seems like there are things that you could become aware of while you’re watching the movie that when you see them in real life, you’re like, ‘ah, I’ve seen this before’ – a sort of a simulation of reality.
“So I do think that that’s probably happening to some extent, at least with each genre.
“As far as watching horror movies and feeling less psychological distress, if something causal is happening there, it might be in the realm of emotion regulation.
“So, for example, people who experienced fear in a safe setting might be able to practice their emotion regulation with regards to fears, they sort of practice feeling afraid and overcoming it.
“And so when they feel afraid in a different scenario in real life, they might have a better psychological toolset for handling that.
“And again, our study didn’t test that specific mechanism, but if I were to sort of speculate, if there’s a causal mechanism, that’s probably something like that.”