Love a Scary Movie? The Psychology Behind the Feeling of Fear


Did you know that Victorians are watching more horror shows than any other state?

According to research conducted by BINGE, since its launch in May, those in VIC made up a third of all Aussies who were streaming (and screaming) some of the world’s biggest thrillers.

Registered Australian psychologist, Frances di Bartomoleo, is not surprised to hear that Australians — particularly Melburnians — are looking to release some built-up tension.

“2020 has been a testing and trying year for many, particularly us down here in Melbourne. We continue to feel incredibly frustrated and emotional about the year that has been, and what we know, is when we have festering feelings of frustration, tension and hurt, these are bound to find their release somehow,” di Bartomoleo said in a statement.

As stated by di Bartomoleo, finding an outlet, “whether it’s through screaming to experience trembling feelings, clutching a pillow, or allowing yourself to cry or sob uncontrollably without judgement” can be a massive release and outlet for many.

“It can serve to release bodily tension, help us release stressors and engage in emotions we’re harbouring and trying to repress,” she said.

However, scary movies are not only used to relieve stress and tension, in fact, studies have shown that people who report being “highly bored” also score high on “sensation-seeking” activities.

In an extended interview with The Latch, di Bartomoleo said that “these people who show a higher liking of or are more drawn to the horror genre.”

“Horror films cause an emotional reaction that people generally like, i.e. to feel fear,” she said and according to the psychologist, most people need to express emotions due to a combination of internal and/or external triggers or need.

“The body’s emotional state increases in tension, stress and consequential distress and associated sensations from the feeling or emotions that are ascending into consciousness. When people feel the need to watch the horror genre, it is generally coming from a subconscious place.”

Deep down in the unconscious mind often lies unresolved or stored painful emotions which are often linked to traumatic and hurtful memories, that for many, are too frightening to process in the present.

“One of the deepest needs in humans is to feel, so by watching the horror genre, these emotions can be partially accessed, causes abreaction (some expression) without having to focus on the origin of the trauma head-on,” she said.

What about those who do not enjoy watching horror films? Well, according to di Bartomoleo, there’s a reason why some people don’t get enjoyment out of it, and this all depends on many interrelating factors including history (traumatic or not), personality type, and coping capabilities.

“Some people feel and use their fear to get an adrenal rush, which can be pleasurable and addictive, while others are too traumatised and feel too unsafe internally to feel it at all, and so is avoidant.”

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