Initial research: What makes a horror?

The Psychology of horror and scary movies research:
Website: Film maker IQ

“Psychologist Dr. Glenn D. Walters identifies three primary factors of the horror film allure:

  • The first is tension – created through mystery, suspense, gore, terror, or shock. This is pretty straight forward elements of horror, the craft and technique of filmmaking.
  • The second factor is relevance. Capturing the universal fear of things like death and the unknown, it can take on cultural relevance dealing with societal issues.
  • The last factor, which may be the most counter intuitive is unrealism. Despite the graphic nature of recent horror films, we all know at some level that what we are watching is not real. Haidt, McCauley and Rozin conducted research on disgust, showing students in 1994 a series of gruesome documentary videos… few could make it to the end – and yet these same students would pay to see even worse acts conducted on a movie screen.
  • According to Walters, movies that bring high levels of tension, are relevant in universal, cultural, subgroup and personal ways while maintaining an air of unrealism will have greater horror appeal.

The Psychology of scary movies
Theories on attraction to Horror:
Many say that horror films are a great source to be able to tap into our survival instincts, and release our adrenaline, and activate a fight or flight response, but there are many theories on why we are so attracted to horror…
Psychoanalysis; Freud lays into the conflict between the id and ego; “A great deal of the sustaining interest in horror stories concerns the discovery of the  unknown.” – (
– Aristotle; The greek philosopher saw our enjoyment in horror stories as a way of releasing negative emotions.
The Excitation transfer theory: The fear causes arousal, which is transferred into positive arousal once the fear is gone. (“snuggle effect”) (
Disposition Alignment theory: People seem to enjoy the violence in horror movies when it is directed against those they believe are deserving of such treatment. (
Reflection on societal fears: Such as Nightmare on Elm Street is seen as a mistrust in authority figures stemming from the Watergate scandals and Zombies are seen as a reflection of viral pandemic fears.

Categories of fear:
Why do we like specific types of horror?
1995 study Deirdre D. Johnston studied 220 high school students watching slasher films and found that motivations fell into four general categories:

  • Gore watching (low empathy, high sensation seeking, identify with the killer)
  • Thrill watching (high empathy, high sensation seeking, identify with victim)
  • Independent watching (high empathy, positive outlook)
  • Problem Watching (high empathy, negative outlook)

To be filled out by public through social media, and responses recorded


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