Wired for Scary Movies

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Scary movies have a single mission: To terrify their viewers. But why do so many people choose to spend two hours in perpetual fear?

New research provides a clear answer: We are evolutionarily wired to seek out such material. A research team led by Mathias Clasen of Denmark's Aarhus University argues horror movies, novels, and video games fall into the category of "benign masochism."

"Horror movies tend to imaginatively transport consumers into fictional universes that brim with dangers," the researchers write. "Through such imaginative absorption, people get to experience strong, predominantly negative emotions within a safe context. This experience serves as a way of preparing for real-world threat situations." So as the great philosopher Scar from the Lion King said, “be prepared”.

Horror is far from a niche market, and more than 54 percent of the study's participants either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "I tend to enjoy horror media." Only 14 percent strongly disagreed. As a Caucasian male, I’m just excited to be part of a minority.

The study found that horror-movie appeal peaked in adolescence and decreased with age. This pattern makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, in that the teen years are typically a time of angst-filled exploration — experience that produce emotions similar to those evoked by horror movies.

The outcome? If you don’t like scary horrible films you are wise sensei –  now please excuse me I have to go and watch Independence Day, I haven’t seen it since I was 5.