If you enjoy movies about zombie apocalypses, masked menaces gutting camp counselors or ancient demons threatening some innocent young family in their freshly purchased rural home, you’re not just a voyeuristic freak. You’re also a voyeuristic freak who’s likely managed the psychological toll of the pandemic quite well, thank you very much.
According to a study published in academic journal Personality and Individual Differences by a group of researchers at Penn State University, the University of Chicago and Aarhus University in Denmark, those who report enjoying horror movies are “more psychologically resilient” during the pandemic than those who don’t. The study utilized 310 participants, who were asked about their engagement with horror films and their overall mental health during COVID-19. They found that even when factoring for other personality influences, a correlation between movie habits and resilience remained.
Among those who displayed greatest resilience were those who reported enjoying horror subgenres pertaining to alien invasions, zombie takeovers, post-apocalypse life or “prepper” themes. Of course, those who enjoyed movies explicitly about pandemics fared well, too. They also reported a better sense of preparedness.
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The researchers suspect that the trait of morbid curiosity plays a significant role in one’s movie consumption and response to the pandemic. Many of the respondents reported an interest in pandemic-themed movies during the pandemic rather than just before it, suggesting a level of morbid curiosity in how these films may reflect their own lives.
However, John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State and lead of the study, stated in a press release that he isn’t entirely sure that watching horror movies would do much to benefit one’s psychological resilience at this point in the pandemic. Rather, the greatest benefit seems to have come from those who had an interest in these movies beforehand. “These kinds of movies apparently serve as mental rehearsal for actual events,” he said. “To me, this implicates an even more important message about stories in general — whether in books, movies or plays. Stories are not just entertainment, but preparation for life.”
God only knows what 2021 has in store for us, and hopefully, most horror movie fodder won’t be on the list. But hey, maybe watching films about cult murder-suicide rituals or chainsaw-wielding cannibals will come in handy for some other reason.