The best way to prepare for a pandemic is to go through a different pandemic, and it doesn’t hurt to participate in some alien invasions or the odd zombie apocalypse. According to a new study, horror fans and “morbidly curious” people have shown “greater resilience during the pandemic.”
The research into psychological coping was conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago, Penn State, and Denmark’s Aarhus University. It hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, but a preprint has been giving the internet goosebumps. By looking at 310 individuals, researchers came to the conclusion that “exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.” They wrote,
“We found that fans of horror films exhibited greater resilience during the pandemic and that fans of “prepper” genres (alien-invasion, apocalyptic, and zombie films) exhibited both greater resilience and preparedness. We also found that [the] trait morbid curiosity was associated with positive resilience and interest in pandemic films during the pandemic.”
In an interview with The Guardian, University of Chicago psychologist Coltan Scrivner explained the findings. “If it’s a good movie, it pulls you in and you take the perspective of the characters, so you are unintentionally rehearsing the scenarios,” he said. “We think people are learning vicariously. It’s like, with the exception of the toilet paper shortage, they pretty much knew what to buy.”
This might explain humanity’s ancient obsession with scaring ourselves silly. According to Mathias Clasen of Aarhus University, immersing ourselves in horror conveys an evolutionary advantage. “Our ability to imaginatively inhabit virtual worlds – worlds of our own making, as well as those conveyed by movies and books – is a gift from natural selection; a bit of biological machinery that evolved because it gave our ancestors an edge in the struggle for survival,” he said.
That might matter the first time you encounter empty grocery shelves or boarded-up storefronts. “Compared to somebody who has never simulated the end of the world,” Clasen continued, “you’ll be in a better place because you have that vicarious experience.”
Added Scrivner, “You’ve seen it a hundred times in the movies, so it doesn’t catch you off-guard so much.”
The full paper, titled “Pandemic Practice: Horror Fans and Morbidly Curious Individuals Are More Psychologically Resilient During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, is available to read in preprint. But while it’s still awaiting peer review, the results are consistent with what we’ve come to expect from the morbid genres. Whether it’s Stephen King defending transgender rights, or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees promoting face masks, it’s clear that horror makes the world a better place.
Editor’s Note: Stay safe by picking up one of our custom face masks. A portion of the proceeds will benefit MusiCares’ COVID-19 Artist Relief fund supporting independent musicians.