Does horror appeal to you? I’m not talking about eyeballing a train crash or getting involved in relationships involving mental abuse. No, I speak of horror movies, violent computer games, and fearsome fiction.
Whether you hid behind a cushion when the baddies appeared on Dr. Who when you were a kid (but couldn’t help inspecting the show each week) or feel compelled to sit through blood-curdling horror flicks, you’ve succumbed to the lure of ghastly vicarious viewing, but have you ever wondered why?
Humans are the only creatures who get a kick from nasty goings on in movies or reading about them in novels — okay, hedgehogs and other animals don’t read or have TV, but you get the point.
A long time before TV, people viewed gladiators fighting and public executions. Doing so was normal then. No doubt, the draw and excitement of what from the outside looks like blood-lust, although tainted by social conditioning, arose from the same cause we face today.
If you enjoy horror, and think about why, you might be disgusted you take pleasure from seeing terrible events on the screen. Or, you could recognize you don’t experience pleasure. It’s more satisfaction in discovering you are safely tucked in your armchair out of harm’s way. Observing other’s plight highlights your security. Then again, you might love the adrenaline surge or rooting for the good guys to survive.
In this Ted talk, though, horror researcher Mathias Clasen offers a compelling reason you love horror, and it’s nothing to do with lust for blood or to make you feel snug and safe. Quite the opposite in fact.
Clasen believes people like horror because of their inbuilt ancient fear system. Thousands of years ago humans faced predators. Life was full of real dangers and horror. Now, though, you might consider getting stuck in a traffic jam and dealing with difficult people the main horrors you meet.
You aren’t chased by wild beasts (unless you count crossing the road or the tax man) but still must stay on your toes. Modern stress is harmful to health, so your inbuilt fear system requires calibration now and then. Rather than stroll through packs of wild hungry lions you view horror movies or become embroiled in dastardly fiction that makes your toes curl to oil your system and keep the wheels turning.
Does a love of horror make you a healthy person rather than an odd one then? Possibly. Clasen mentions people like horror flicks, games, and books because it helps them get ready in case of emergencies. If true horror strikes, and you’re a total snowflake, you are likely to go to pieces during a stressful event.
If you’ve hundreds of horrible vicarious experiences under your belt, your sensitivity to potential terror-inducing incidents will be less. You’ll cope well. The downside, however, is insensitivity makes you less caring. Empathy dampens if people are exposed to violence or witness other’s pain too often.
Balance is the key to healthy viewing of the horrendous kind. Playing horror-related games and watching horror films all the time can make you less thoughtful to the needs of fellow humans. A little displaced horror, though, can keep your ancient fear system rocking.
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