A new study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences finds that people who enjoy horror films and the so-called “prepper” genres (including alien invasion, apocalyptic, and zombie films) showed more psychological resilience during the on-going global pandemic.
“Through fiction, people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practice mind-reading and emotion regulation skills,” wrote the authors in their paper.
Throughout the month of April 2020 – just after COVID-19 had been declared a global pandemic – lead author on the study Coltan Scrivner and his colleagues recruited a total of 310 participants and asked them a series of questions.
The participants were quizzed about their overall enjoyment of watching TV and films in general, as well as how much they liked pandemic films and those usually assigned to other genres, including horror, zombie, psychological thriller, science fiction, and more.
Next, the researchers measured the participant’s resilience to, and preparedness for, the pandemic by having them answer a number of related questions indicating their level of anxiety and knowledge about material provisions necessary during extreme events.
In addition, Scrivner and his team assessed the psychological trait of “morbid curiosity” which indicates a person’s interest in dangerous or threatening phenomena, and subjected the participants to a “Big 5” personality questionnaire.
Results showed that horror fans were significantly less likely to experience psychological distress during the pandemic, while “prepper” fans were typically more prepared for it, reported fewer negative disruptions in their life, and likewise had more resilience than their peers.
The authors hypothesise that horror and “prepper” films constitute a kind of safe environment in which people can develop a model of how to act during dangerous times, as well as improve their emotional coping skills without facing any actual danger.
“Experiencing negative emotions in a safe setting, such as during a horror film,” wrote the authors, “might help individuals hone strategies for dealing with fear and more calmly deal with fear-eliciting situations in life”.