A love of apocalyptic horror films may have actually helped people mentally prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. At least, that's according to research published this month in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
More than 300 people participated in the study, and researchers found that those who enjoyed horror films before the pandemic were more psychologically resilient in 2020.
"They reported fewer symptoms of depression, of anxiety, or sleeplessness," said the study's lead author, Coltan Scrivner of the University of Chicago. "This is really cool because a lot of these symptoms, especially anxiety and depression, have been skyrocketing during 2020, and so it seems like this specific group of people are reporting fewer of those symptoms."
Scrivner said the findings show that fictional stories can mentally prepare us for real life challenges – like a pandemic.
"It could just be the case that they've learned how to calm themselves down when they're feeling anxious, or they've learned how to deal with uncertainty, or they've seen something like it before in a zombie movie," he said.
While horror fans were more psychologically resilient, the research found that fans of apocalyptic horror films (like zombie or alien invasion movies) also felt they knew how to physically prepare for the pandemic.
“They would say things like they knew what to buy in preparation for the pandemic, that the consequences didn’t catch them by surprise quite as much. So the idea is that, it wasn’t just scary, but there was maybe some actual practical knowledge that they gained from this,” Scrivner said.
The study also looked at people with a morbid curiosity, or those who are curious about dangerous or “bad” things, ranging from serial killers to ghosts to violence. They found that these people responded to the pandemic with a “positive resilience.”
They didn’t just experience fewer bad symptoms of anxiety and depression, “They were able to find ways to enjoy their life during the pandemic, more so than people who weren’t as morbidly curious. So they were able to find things that they enjoy doing, they were able to have a sense of meaning during that time,” he said.
While Scrivner didn’t specifically look at the differences between those who like horror movies and TV shows, he said it’s reasonable to assume that fans of long-running shows like “The Walking Dead” were even more prepared. That show, in particular, shows the longer-term effects of a major event.
“As we’ve gone on, the virus is still scary...the zombies are still scary, but other things become even worse or just as bad,” he said. “With COVID, we’re seeing the economic downfall that’s adding additional strain. We’re seeing a lot of social uprisings that are in part due to either the coronavirus or social restrictions related to it.”
Scrivner added that they controlled for personality traits like extroversion or neuroticism, meaning they identified those factors and did their research in such a way that they didn’t play a major role in the findings.
However, Scrivner says if horror isn't your thing, he doesn't recommend forcing yourself to go binge-watch now. It may not have immediate effects, and could also induce more anxiety in some people.
“If you're somebody who knows that you can't really deal with horror movies, that's obviously going to make it worse, not better,” he said.
However, he plans to keep researching to see if watching horror movies could work as a kind of exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to help certain people help themselves.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.