A group of researchers from the Research Program for Media, Communication, and Society and the School of Communication and Culture at Aarhus University asked 310 participants about their film and TV viewing habits earlier this year during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Although most people go into a scary movie with the intention of being entertained rather than learning something, scary stories present ample learning opportunities,” the study explains.
“Fiction allows the audience to explore an imagined version of the world at very little cost. Through fiction, people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practice their mind-reading and emotion regulation skills.”
The research then revealed that those who prefer horror movies over other genres might have experienced less psychological distress over the last few months.
“One reason that horror use may correlate with less psychological distress is that horror fiction allows its audience to practice grappling with negative emotions in a safe setting,” they said.
“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.”
The study ended by addressing those who might not enjoy horror films, saying the forced experience might provoke the opposite effect.
“Of course, if someone hates horror movies, it may simply make it worse,” they wrote. “If emotion regulation skills are what are being improved and helping people deal with the pandemic, it may also be best to watch movies that are scary to you, not movies that are considered the scariest in general.
“If this is how it works, the whole point would be for you to learn to accept feeling afraid or anxious, and learn how to overcome that feeling.”