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Trick or treat: The psychology of Halloween and horror movies

The 'dark factor'

A love of horror movies is associated with an underlying dimension of entertainment preferences, dubbed "the dark factor".

Those with dark tastes value intensity, edginess and rebellion. Their personalities lean towards risk-taking, antagonism, imagination, and tough-mindedness.

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Trick or treat: The psychology of Halloween and horror movies

Trick or treat: The psychology of Halloween and horror movies

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-31/trick-or-treat-the-psychology-of-halloween-and-horror-movies/6901832

abc.net.au

3

Key Ideas

The 'dark factor'

A love of horror movies is associated with an underlying dimension of entertainment preferences, dubbed "the dark factor".

Those with dark tastes value intensity, edginess and rebellion. Their personalities lean towards risk-taking, antagonism, imagination, and tough-mindedness.

The pleasure paradox

Some derive enjoyment from negative emotional states, as when enjoying a "good cry", for instance.

A study found that people who liked sad films enjoyed a scene relative to how much sadness it elicited. The stronger the sadness, the higher the enjoyment.

Trick or treat

Halloween seems to bring out excesses in costumed children and adults.

Several studies revealed that costumed children who were anonymous — by wearing masks for instance — were more likely to take extra candies. In adults, costumed Halloween celebrators tend to have higher blood alcohol readings than people in plain clothes.

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Primary factors that make horror films alluring
  • Tension - Generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock and gore.
  • Relevance - The horror film may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fea...
Viewing motivators for horror movies
  • Gore watchers typically have low empathy, high sensation seeking, and a strong identification with the killer.
  • Thrill watchers typically have both high empathy and sensation seeking;they identify themselves more with the victims and like the suspense of the film.
  • Independent watchers typically have a high empathy for the victim along with a high positive effect for overcoming fear.
  • Problem watchers typically have high empathy for the victim but are characterized by negative effect (particularly a sense of helplessness).
Theories on why we love to watch horror films
  • Dr. Carl Jung believed horror films “tapped into primordial archetypes buried deep in our collective subconscious – images like shadow and mother play important role in the horror genre”.
  • Horror films are watched as a way of purging negative emotions and/or as a way to relieve pent-up aggression.
  • Horror movies are enjoyed because the people on screen getting killed deserve it.
  • Cultural historian David Skal has argued that horror films simply reflect our societal fears.
Why some people savor scary movies, and others hate them
Why some people savor scary movies, and others hate them
  • The Excitation Transfer Process. How you feel AFTER the movie.  When watching frightening films, the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases. After the film, the ...
The Horror Movie

Horror is a genre that has a reputation of being a low, somewhat trashy, titillating genre that appeals to our basest instincts. 
"Its also a wonderful, popular art form through which...

For a work to be classified as horror...

... it has to have a monster, which has to be threatening in some way. The monster is often otherworldly or violates the laws of nature, as in Alien or Jaws—but some argue that a human character can be a monster, as in Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and Halloween.

The monster generally is otherworldly or violates the laws of nature and is designed to elicit disgust as an emotion.

"The beast within"

This is the most popular theory explaining the genre’s popularity and it argues that an unconscious, repressed part of every human is actually savage; that the veneer of civility is very thin, and beneath that is essentially a monster.

Although we consciously disapprove of what the monster is doing, deep down part of us enjoys seeing the murder and mayhem the monster unleashes—because if we could, we would do that.

one more idea

Reasons for enjoying or hating scary movies
  • Sensation seeking individuals may enjoy scary movies because it will elevate the heart rate and make the body feel as though it needs to expend energy.
  • Highly sensitive peopl...
Ancient Origins of Halloween

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, in the area that is now Ireland.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the gho...

All Saints' Day
  • On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.
  • The influence of Christianity spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was probably done to replace the Celtic festival.
  • All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints’ Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, and eventually, Halloween.
Halloween Comes to America

The celebration of Halloween was limited in colonial New England, but as the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with Irish immigrants, fleeing the Irish Potato Famine. This helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.

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Reasons we like watching horror films
  • Horror films entertain us. They act as a means to fend off boredom.
  • The horror film is a way of unravelling evil. Ideas and myths like Frankenstein provide us w...
Why we feel intimidated with abnormal things

1. Thoughts like "what if there actually are ghosts" create excitement.  Seeking this kind of experiences may be a kind of logical reality-check.

2. Such experiences may evoke different types of repressed complexes or ideas that we may wish to process.

3. Freud claims that most people are never completely freed from the fear of darkness, loneliness and silence. 

The Fascination Of Tragedy
The Fascination Of Tragedy

Tragedy is supposed to be unpleasant, but human beings have a fascination with something that evokes disgust or awe.

Ancient philosophers have wondered about tragedy being a source of ...

Novelty And Security In Tragedy

There is a certain gruesome novelty in tragedy, as we normally see other people in highly unpleasant and deadly circumstances, while we are safe.

There is a mix of emotions that is experienced, ranging from joy, grief, pity and delight.

Pleasure And Pain
  • Some people find pleasure in watching something painful, finding that the pleasure is outweighing the pain.
  • Others can feel a sort of catharsis, a liberation from their negative emotions, with the pain of others facilitating a kind of relief from their own traumas.
  • Many find pain to be a source of enjoyment, with the sensation of the bad occurrence that is being witnessed providing a sort of climax that satisfies them.
Positive Resilience And Psychological Distress
Positive Resilience And Psychological Distress
  • Positive Resilience is the ability to remain hopeful and upbeat during a crisis. If during a pandemic, a person still has positive experiences, like doing things that are enjoyable, then the...
A Safe Way To Learn

Frightening fiction provides a safe way to learn how to deal with fear and anxiety.

Anything that is feared, can be tackled with knowledge. Fear during a global crisis generally arises due to lack of knowledge on how to deal with the situation. Helplessness and uncertainty give rise to the feelings of doom and gloom. The way to tackle this is to be completely informed about the situation, and be ‘apocalypse ready’.

Power
The very idea of "tricking" has the implicit idea of getting one over on another and therefore being triumphant.

Our hearts race, we sweat, and blood rushes to our faces in anticipation. The same ha...

We love to expect the unexpected

We crave the adrenalin and excitement that goes along with being scared and in scaring.

Horror movies and hide-and-seek have a similar sensorial experience.

Matching the experience we feel inside

Halloween is an opportunity to align ourselves from the inside out with our own psychological feeling.

It makes us feel completely alive in a split second -- like a wake-up call.

Face and Embrace Your Impermanence

Make room in this season to turn inward and become still.

Are you overcoming your fears and go after your dreams? When we can acknowledge your impermanence without letting feelings tak...

Face and Embrace Your Inner Demons

Try to identify areas in your life that make you feel all rigid inside, ashamed, judgmental or angry. Under rigidities is where your inner demons hide and when you look them straight in the eye, they tend to disappear.