Each year, in addition to other Halloween festivities, a variety of horror films are released around October 31. People go to these movies to be scared, but it is unclear why these films are scary when the viewers know that they are not real. David Widman, associate professor of psychology, explains further:
Do you like horror movies?
Generally no, I do not like them because there is often too much blood and gore, but some horror movies without blood and gore are suspense-based. I enjoy those. There was a time when some of the stuff Alfred Hitchcock did was considered horror.
Would you elaborate on the fear response in humans?
We have an autonomic response, often called the fight-or-flight response, and there are many physiological changes that come with it such as an increased heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, and dilated pupils. This autonomic response is an activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is a sub-system of the peripheral nervous system.
Why do horror films trigger the fear response in some people?
That is the magic of movies. You are able to suspend reality for a while; that is our natural ability to imagine. We like being scared, as long as it is in a controlled and safe environment. Roller coasters are a good example.
Why do horror films not trigger the fear response in other people?
It is a capacity of the imagination; they are able to keep it in their head, but they might really be scared and do not realize it. So, what we would have to do is hook them up to a system that measures changes in the autonomic nervous system, like a lie detector, to see whether or not they were registering a fear response.
Are there any long-term or wide-spread negative consequences of horror films that you know about?
That is always a tough issue. We have done research on violence, and people are worried that these films will make humans more violent. Slasher and gore films do not seem to temporarily enhance violence, but fight scenes do increase short-term aggression. It is hard to tell if there is a long-term effect; it needs more research, but I do not believe there are any long term detriments. Of course, I am always willing to be proved wrong.
~Aaron Adams ’12, Juniata Online Journalist