The Psychology Behind Why We Love Horror & Gore
Don’t worry; you aren’t that weird
Halloween may only be an annual celebration, but our love for horror movies is definitely year-round. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the suspense of something like A Quiet Place or Don’t Breathe, the absolutely terrifying moments of The Exorcism of Emily Rose or the gore in films like Train to Busan. Sometimes, you can even get the most timid person to enjoy a horror marathon or—even better—join you in the movie house.
But what is it about things that scare us that we love so much? Why do we cover our ears but keep our eyes open? Why do we pay for movie tickets and sit in the theater for hours only to get scared out of our wits?
Well, it’s because we’re sick. Kidding—kind of.
Others might think that those who love gore have violent tendencies or psychological illnesses, but it’s actually a lot more innocent than that. A study by researchers at the University of Central Florida and Indiana University came to the conclusion that gore simply holds our attention. So while we know that the blood and guts is a little unnerving, we can’t look away once we see it.
In a way, it’s exactly like how when we see an accident on the road, we drive a little slower to see what’s going on. It’s an annoying habit, but we can’t seem to shake it off. It’s quite odd, but our brains are just programmed to stare at disgusting things. So whether or not we let ourselves experience it, the truth is that we all have this morbid fascination with all things…well, morbid.
Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Ultrecht, explains his theory as to why we love horror quite matter-of-factly: “People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice.” He further went on to say that there is a difference between reality and fiction—an idea which Dr. Glenn Walters supported in a 2004 paper.
Dr. Walters cited an old study on disgust, wherein participants were shown videos of 1) Cows being stunned, killed and butchered, 2) A live monkey being hit in the head with a hammer and 3) A depiction of a child’s facial skin being turned inside out for surgery. As you would guess, most people turned the video clips off before they got to the end. And yet Dr. Walters questioned why people would pay money to see even more blood, guts and action.
His theory is that we as humans are able to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. In a sense, we are able to control the distance we feel from actors and actual people (or, as was the case in the experiment, animals).
Or perhaps Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer Theory (ETT) is more relatable. This little one explains that the negative feelings that arise from horror movies come back tenfold when we experience the positive effect of a hero’s triumph. Then again, there’s also film scholar Noël Carroll’s blunt explanation: We like seeing people get hurt when they deserve to be hurt.
So weird as you might think you are, there are actually a number of reasons to why you like watching horror and gore. Guess we aren’t so sick in the head, huh?
Art Alexandra Lara
Images by Junji Ito