As you watch the clip above, your heart races, your palms sweat, you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for a horrific surprise. Like millions of teens today, you can’t seem to stop yourself from watching frightening, terrible films full of gore and suspense. But what’s behind society’s strange addiction to horror movies? Sites like Science Daily and WebMD think they might have the answer.
Known as the “Horror Paradox,” Science Daily says today’s addiction to scary movies has two roots. The first is that the horror doesn’t actually scare viewers, but rather excites them and gets their adrenaline going. The second explanation is that viewers are willing to go through all that fear, knowing that they’ll experience a tremendous sense of relief at the end.
However, recent studies through WebMD have come up with much more elaborate theories on what happens to people when they view horror films. Professor Glenn Sparks from Purdue University believes the reasons vary, depending on the circumstances and the viewers. For young men, Sparks says it is possible that watching horror films is a throwback to ancient rites of passages. “There’s a motivation males have in our culture to master threatening situations. The gorier the movie, the more justified the young man feels in boasting that he endured it,” Sparks said.
“I like scary movies because they are suspenseful, twisted, surprising, and give me an adrenaline rush,” junior Sam Becker said. “I feel like I could run a marathon after watching one.”
One of Sparks’ other theories is that people watch these films because of what’s going on in the world. For example, after a college student was murdered on campus, the viewing of horror movies increased not only in the dorms, but also throughout the surrounding community. WebMD explains this as a way of coping and a distraction from real-life horrors. Another example was the increase in horror movie viewers after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, which Sparks believed occurred because the public was simply curious as to what torture was like.
“Scary movies are interesting to me because I like to try and guess who the bad guy is, even though there are lots of twists and I’m usually wrong,” senior Ali Miller said.
Dr. James B. Weaver III, a researcher at Emory University’s department of behavioral sciences and health education, has also come up with some interesting theories. For teens, he believes the fascination is rooted in adults’ disdain and rejection of such graphic movies. And as for the adults that watch scary movies, Weaver infers their interest comes from a more morbid fascination, similar to the feelings that compel people to look at a terrible car accident.
Unfortunately, many scientists are worried that horror films have lasting effects are their viewers. Even outside of nightmares and paranoia, researchers fear the audience will suffer long-term consequences like an increased sense of apathy towards real-life suffering, sleeping trouble, and a heightened sense of aggression.