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Boo! Why Horror Movies Might Be Good for You During COVID-19

October 14, 2020

Great news for anyone who barely flinches at the sight of Jason Vorhees, yearns for phone calls from Freddy Kreuger or perks up when Pennywise proffers red balloons. Your love of horror movies might mean you’re taking the COVID-19 pandemic more in stride than those who prefer romantic comedies with their popcorn. According to research from a University of Chicago team, fans of horror movies are more psychologically resilient during frightening world events like the pandemic. Likewise, people who tend to watch so-called “prepper” films about preparing for zombie invasions or the apocalypse report feeling more prepared for life during the pandemic. These people also are more likely to watch pandemic-themed movies during this time. “Scary movies allow viewers to practice coping with distressing emotions, such as fear, in a safe and controlled environment," said Dr. David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network. "As we gain a sense of mastery over fear, real-world concerns such as the COVID pandemic become less scary to us as well.” The published abstract from the research suggested that people watch scary movies because they can learn how to react – and how not to react -- in similar life-threatening situations. “We found that trait morbid curiosity was associated with positive resilience,” the researchers noted. “Exposure to frightening fiction allows audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.” The team studied the answers 322 American adult participants gave to questions about their movie genre preferences, interest in pandemic movies, their preparedness for the pandemic and their mental health during the pandemic. They were asked if they have felt more depressed than usual, have been sleeping well and whether they watch the news. They also had to report on their reaction to the pandemic, if they felt they knew what to buy to hunker down at home and if the pandemic itself surprised them. Their answers were then compared against the Pandemic Psychological Resilience Scale developed by the study authors. Among the revelations are:

  • Horror fans were not necessarily more prepared or resilient in the face of the pandemic, but they were far less distressed psychologically.
  • Fans of prepper genres were much more prepared for the pandemic and noted fewer disruptions to their day-to-day life. They were no more likely to exhibit positive resilience, however.
  • Participants with a moderate or greater interest in watching horror films during the COVID-19 pandemic were found to have greater positive resilience in real life than those with no interest.
The researchers concluded that while people generally watch horror movie as entertainment, there are subtle lessons being delivered. These include how to escape from predators like a man wielding a squealing chainsaw, navigate unusual social situations such as being trapped in an eerie mansion during a blizzard, and exercise effective coping strategies in real-world situations.