Girls experienced more fear than did boys but fear in both sexes declined with age. Girls physically intervened and used social support and escape more than did boys. Cognitive reassurance was the most common coping strategy, and social support was the least common. How children cope with horror has been the subject of some research on child development and horror because of the potentially harmful psychological consequences of exposure to frightening stimuli.
Non-cognitive strategies were those which did not involve the processing of verbal information and which might involve desensitization the gradual exposure to the fear stimulus ; cognitive strategies were those whereby children were encouraged to think about the source of their fear as a means of coping with the stimulus.
There is evidence that desensitization is successful Wilson and Cantor, For example, children 5—7 and 8—9 year olds who had been gradually introduced to a videotape of snakes showed less fear when watching the snake pit scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. A similar effect was found in a study of 5—7- and 8—year olds in which participants played with a rubber tarantula and later saw a scene from Kingdom Of The Spiders Wilson, , and in a group of kindergarteners and 5—6-, 7—8-, and 6—9-year-old children who were exposed to photographs of worms and then saw a frightening film featuring worms.
The children who had been previously exposed to the creatures enjoyed the film more than did those not exposed; exposure to live worms reduced the fear evoked by the film in boys Weiss et al. Here, Wes Craven the director of A Nightmare On Elm Street describes filming Robert Englund Freddy Krueger in Elm Street explaining that he was the actor who played a character so that the video could be sent to a distressed child who found Krueger very frightening. The reasons for the success of this strategy might be the provision of relief from anxiety and the provision of tactile contact in linguistically developing children or by the occupation of working memory, which reduces the cognitive resources available to think about and process fear stimuli.
Proximity to a parent is perceived as being the most successful fear-reduction coping strategy in young children Wilson et al. Very young children under 2 years experience less fear through covering their eyes; in 3—5-year olds, this behavior increases fear Wilson, Cognitive strategies, such as talking about films and programs with parents or other adults, have been found to be effective Cantor and Wilson, By far, the most common type of cognitive strategy employed by parents is reassuring children that the stimulus children are afraid of does not exist Cantor and Hoffner, , although this is likely to be successful in older children but not in younger children 4—5 years; Cantor and Wilson, Explaining that the source of fear is not likely to be harmful is also successful in older 8—9 year old children Wilson and Cantor, Verbal explanations may be ineffective in younger children who are less likely to discuss horror materials with their parents.
If children are informed that a film has a happy ending, they report less fear Hoffner and Cantor, ; Hoffner, If children rehearse verbal information e.
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Children also regard the spiders as less dangerous after being given these instructions. Two physical means of coping with frightening stimuli studied in children are blunting avoiding threat or transforming a threat by distraction; looking away, for example and monitoring being action oriented and attending to the threat.
Sparks and Spirek found that high blunters and low monitors were less physiologically aroused by horror films than were high monitors and low blunters suggesting that underlying physiology might predict or predispose individuals to react in a given emotional way to frightening stimuli; Sparks a , b also found that low monitors were less negative about horror when given information about the film but this information had no effect on blunters.
A study of 14— and 15—year olds examined the role of blunting and monitoring on coping with scary films Hoffner, Davis and Kraus had previously reported that high empathetic concern was associated with less loneliness and unsociability; high personal distress was associated with shyness, poor interpersonal functioning, and social anxiety. Empathetic concern was found to encourage altruism, whereas personal distress prompted people to reduce their own emotion expression Batson, Hoffner found a series of interesting results. A belief that something was unreal was the most common coping strategy, followed by interpersonal comfort and momentary avoidance; these were used more than was distraction.
The study found that boys preferred scary films more than did girls, a finding consistent with the literature, that girls reported more empathetic concern and personal distress, that personal distress correlated with empathy and with monitoring and blunting, that these correlated negatively with liking for scary films, that blunting predicted use of distraction and unreality, that monitoring was more widely used and was more effective, that monitoring and blunting were associated with increased interpersonal comfort, that girls were more likely to use momentary avoidance and interpersonal comfort and consider them more effective, that people who reported using one strategy were more likely to use all four, that empathy, but not personal distress, was associated with greater use of reality, IC and personal distress were associated with increased use of distraction, and that higher empathy scores were associated with greater use of Unreality.
People who liked horror were less likely to use distraction, unreality, and momentary avoidance as coping strategies, which suggest that coping is related to the dislike of horror — it is something that must be done to mitigate the effects of something that is disliked.
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If people thought the coping strategies worked, they enjoyed the films more. Hoffner also noted that participants who reported finding scary films and television to be violent were likely to use all four coping mechanisms; those who found the material to be realistic were more likely to report using distraction, unreality, and interpersonal comfort as coping mechanisms. Material featuring blood and gore was more likely to lead to the use of momentary avoidance. Girls reported using momentary avoidance and interpersonal comfort more than did boys and considered these to be more effective strategies than did boys.
As children enter adolescence, their reasons for seeking out horror develop and change — they will watch to be thrilled, to rebel because parents have prohibited them , or to enjoy gore because they are interested in how people die Oliver, a , b.
One study of 13—year-old boys and girls examined their motivation for watching slasher movies Johnston, Reasons for watching included gore watching, thrill watching, an increased feeling of independence bravery, and problem avoidance. Thrill watching and independence were positively related to positive affect; positive views of slashers were associated with high gore and thrill watching and gore watching predicted preference for graphic violence.
Boys were more likely to watch graphic horror because they were motivated to seek out gore, and they were also more likely to identify with the killer than were girls; girls were more likely to identify with the victim. A larger survey of 6, 10—year-old US adolescents in found similar sex differences: watching violent films was associated with being male, older, non-white, having less educated parents, and having poor school achievement Worth et al. Both boys and girls who found violent cartoons funny and thrilling also scored higher on neuroticism, psychoticism, and sensation seeking.
The majority of the research on the development of horror preference and response to horror film has recruited children and adolescents as participants.
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There is some, but not much, research on how older people respond to horror, and this suggests that the preference for horror declines with age Tamborini and Stiff, ; Hoffner and Levine, Clasen et al. As Clasen et al. The average age of those who agreed that they strongly liked horror media was slightly lower than those who disagreed They also note that since sensation seeking also declines with age, this might explain the reduction in enjoyment and seeking out of horror with increasing age post adolescence.
Children tend to express greater fear to different types of stimuli and content depending on the age of the child. There are also differences between boys and girls and between age groups in the types of coping strategies they adopt during and after watching frightening television and film material. One of the principal purposes of horror film is to induce fear. The nature of fear and its etiology has a long history in psychology, and various models have been proposed, which have attempted to explain why we become afraid and to what types of stimulus. The module has four features: it is selective, it is automatic when encountering fear-relevant stimuli, it responds without mediation , it is encapsulated i.
It is considered to be an adaptive mechanism for allowing us to avoid physical danger rapidly Schaller and Neuberg, In the context of horror film, this is, of course, counter-intuitive as horror film viewers who enjoy horror may not wish to escape the horror and deliberately and proactively approach and seek it, and those that do not enjoy horror and who may serendipitously watch horror engage in other withdrawal behaviors such as shutting the eyes or holding on to a companion they may also leave a cinema or turn off a screen.
The questions that then arise are whether there are specific stimuli or situations, which horror films deploy or recruit which are more likely to induce a fear response and, if so, what are these stimuli and why do they have this effect. The latter stimuli pose no immediate and real physical threat to survival i. These stimuli and situations were those which once posed threats to our ancestors and that we, therefore, developed an evolutionary disposition to avoid or to respond with fear, a form of selective association.
Guns, for example, are not fatal unless used, and our exposure to them is limited; guns are not phobic stimuli and seeing photographs of guns — or seeing guns — does not elicit significant fear, and not the degree of fear that stimuli to which we are evolutionarily predisposed to fear evoke.
A person pointing a gun at us, however, with the intention to fire or with the threat of the intention to fire is clearly a direct threat but not one that is evolutionarily created. One of most common phobias is arachnophobia, and spiders have been a staple of horror films since the s, although only 0.
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This predisposition facilitates vigilance occasionally, over-vigilance and we see threat in ambiguous situations to sources of threat or danger with greater attention paid to some stimuli Clasen, ; March et al. It is a self-protection and survival-enabling mechanism motivating us to confront and, therefore, remove the potential source of threat or flee thereby, removing us from the context in which a threat could result in endangerment.
Fear is related to expressions of disgust, and the literature on phobia suggests that the strength of fear for phobic objects is closely related to disgust sensitivity but not trait anxiety Davey, such that people who express abnormal fear of an object also show high degrees of sensitivity to disgusting stimuli but are not dispositionally, highly anxious. A specific phobia, which appears to be qualitatively and quantitatively different from others and is relevant in the context of horror film, is the fear of blood or blood-injection-injury phobia Wani et al.
Individuals experience fear, anxiety, and disgust and avoid or decline medical treatment because of the strength of their phobic reaction Wani et al. This extreme experience may explain why some people feel squeamish at the sight of blood in horror: blood is unique as a stimulus, which evokes a strong fear or disgust reaction.
Fear is the most widely studied emotion in science because it can be easily conditioned, studied, and observed in non-human organisms. There is a substantial literature, which has attempted to explain fear conditioning and learning through reference to its underlying neuropsychology, and much of this work has been conducted on non-human species LeDoux and Hofmann, In humans, much of our understanding of the neurology of fear has derived from neuroimaging research and studies of brain injury. One of the brain regions involved in fear recognition and experience is the amygdala Martin, ; March et al.
No study has specifically examined the effect of exposure to horror film on brain activation, although hundreds of studies have examined the effect of exposure of fear-related stimuli, including films designed to induce fear, on brain activation measured via MEG, PET, fMRI, and EEG. Many studies have examined the consequence of brain injury on the fear response, and one study is especially relevant to horror film as it examined the effect of bilateral amygdala injury on responses to fear-related stimuli in a film-related context Feinstein et al. In this study, a year-old woman with normal IQ and language showed impaired fear conditioning, impaired recognition of fear in faces, and impaired social-related fear.
Feinstein et al. Although she verbally indicated avoidance of the spiders she physically approached them and asked 15 times if she could touch one; at the haunted house a visitor attraction , she volunteered to lead a group of visitors, did not hesitate in walking around, and was not scared by the monsters she scared the actors. None of the 10 horror film clips elicited fear other film clips designed to elicit other emotions successfully elicited those emotions and she asked for the name of one so that she could rent it.
She recognized that most people would be scared by them.
This is only comprehensive study of the effect of region-relevant brain injury on the perception of horror films and horror-related stimuli in a single-case study, and while single case studies need to be interpreted cautiously, the study does provide the opening for other studies to confirm the role of these structures in horror appreciation. One possible extension of this study would be to examine whether amygdala reactivity is associated with enjoyment of horror film those with highly reactive amygdalae may fear or enjoy horror more than those with less reactive amygdalae or whether the amygdala becomes increasingly active with greater stimulation, and the intensity of the experience correlates with the increase in activity while watching.
The current review sought to determine why people watch horror film and how exposure to horror film affects behavior. The conclusions in the previous paragraph are based on a very limited set of data. The studies from which such data have been drawn have varied in sample size, methodology, and materials, and these are three clearly identifiable and major limitations in this field.
Hoffner and Levine have highlighted similar limitations in their meta-analysis. Studies have used a variety — although a very restricted variety — of horror films over 30 years of research, and the films share little in common apart from being classed as horror film. The Silence of the Lambs, Cannibal Holocaust, The Babadook, Saw, The Blair Witch Project, Psycho, Dracula , and The Devil Rides Out are all horror films, but each has distinctive mechanisms of evoking fear and disgust based on story, film making, plot, characters, sound, performance, visual effects, credibility, and use of music.
No one study can fully take into account our response to horror because not all horror films are the same Oliver, a , b , and this limitation needs to be more clearly recognized and addressed in future work. Hoffner and Levine have concluded that the nature of the media content in these studies can explain the failure to find homogeneity in the correlations between enjoyment of horror media and empathic concern in their meta-analysis. As noted earlier, when correlations were found for empathy and horror enjoyment, the most consistent correlations found were in those studies in which victimization formed the dominant aspect of the horror stimuli.
When these studies were removed, the correlations for the remaining studies fell to almost zero.
The former limitation can be easily resolved via empirical research. This is not to say that some of these elements have not been studied — this review and others have described studies in which they have — but there has been little research which has examined these elements systematically and methodically, and some elements have not been explored at all.
It is possible to study non-verbal measures such as movement, EEG, brain activation, GSR, and so on , but these are indirect, correlational measures of what an individual might be thinking or feeling. Motor behavior, however, may be a very informative indicator of response to horror, as some of the studies reviewed here suggest. Given the current accessibility of film and media generally via smartphones, as well as internet-ready TVs and, of course, computers, one topic of research that has been little studied is whether the medium affects the perception and enjoyment of horror films.