Individuals who are more sensation seeking may gravitate toward scary movies because of how they interpret the body’s reaction to stress, according to Margee Kerr, a sociologist who studies fear and author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. A fear-inducing movie will kick a person’s heart rate into high gear and make the body feel as though it needs to expend energy.
“Some might make a positive meaning out of that ― they feel really alive are grounded in their bodies, almost like how you feel after a really intense yoga class or something that focuses all attention on your body,” Kerr said. “For other people, they might interpret that almost like a panic attack, where they’re feeling a sense of loss of control over what their body is doing.”
Highly sensitive people, or HSPs, can be easily overstimulated by their environment and also tend to be more empathetic than the average person. This means they may have a different or more intense physiological reaction to violent or scary movies, HSP researchers say.
People who had positive experiences when they were young with what researchers call “fun scary” ― an experience that startles, but doesn’t contribute to real fear ― already have an internal concept that frames certain scary activities in an exciting way, Kerr said.
“If their parents exposed them to just the right amount or kind of ‘fun’ as a kid ― so not taking them to see ‘It,’ for example, before they have a good an idea of what kind of monsters are real or not exposing them to roller coasters too early ― can impact whether people will like the whole genre or not,” she explained.
Horror movies are enjoyable for some people when they’re shared with loved ones.
“It can be a really wonderful, social bonding experience,” Kerr said. “We do know that the bonds we make under stress often are more intense, especially with people we already have a positive association with. So if you’re going with your friends and you do something fun and intense and scary, you end up forming more layered, rich memories.”