Why do people like horror stories

Question to the brain

Privatdozent Dr. Thorsten Fehr, University of Bremen: Let's assume a person who sits alone in front of the screen and watches a horror film - a film with a splatter part, a lot of blood and cruelty. The human hears and sees. This is why the primary visual cortex and the superior temporal lobe, which is responsible for processing what is heard, are active. The Wernicke area is responsible for processing what is said in the film. If the film viewer also feels the impulse to react verbally to the horror film, for example by screaming or screaming, the area at the bottom left in the front part of the brain is also active. These brain activities described occur in almost all people when they watch a horror movie.

What is exciting is that there are other, highly individual reactions to horror films. How a person reacts depends on the level of development of their brain and their life experience. Because these two factors result in a person's emotional-cognitive thinking style.

This thinking style determines whether people perceive a horror film as realistic or virtual - two fundamentally different perspectives that trigger different reactions in the brain. People who classify a horror film as realistic in the broadest sense perceive what they see as having effects on their own body and life. This type of perception can often be observed in children and adolescents, but also in adults. Due to the perceived threat, the executive areas of the brain become active. Man puts himself in readiness to act in order to be able to escape. Orientation in the room is also important for this: Where is the next door, how can I escape quickly? The intraparietal sulcus is responsible for this information. Periaqueductal gray, a structure in the brain stem, also plays an important role. It is responsible for reflexes to attack and to flee and only becomes active when a threat is perceived. However, since the threatening event only takes place on the screen, the viewer usually does not really run away. The escape impulses are therefore averted again, which happens in the right inferior frontal region of the brain.

If the viewer emulates the pain of the characters in the film, the pain system in the somatosensory cortex can also switch on. When there is emotional arousal, the subcortials and sometimes the insula also become active. They process the sensation of pain and everything that is perceived as unpleasant or rejected. When what is seen is stored in the memory, the amygdala is also involved. Especially in children and adolescents, horror films can cause deep memory scars, which can lead to fears or psychological disorders. It is therefore important to protect them from media violence.

People who watch horror films often, are real fans or consider the genre as their hobby, react to these films completely differently than just described. These people, who can be socially competent and dear contemporaries in everyday life, classify what they see as virtual. With them, areas that have to do with arousal are less active. The periaqueductal gray is not activated; instead, thalamic nuclei located far back play a role. These stir when someone is happy about successful trick effects in splatter scenes, for example. Regions such as the primary visual cortex and areas also play a role for object expertise. Because horror fans are often experts in their field.

Adults are very different in their perception of horror films. That also depends on the personality structure. More emotional people tend to see atrocities seen as a potential reality - which is not unreasonable in view of injustice regimes and torture. Others reject this realistic component and keep making themselves aware of horror films as virtual and not as realistic. What a person assesses as a realistic threat also has to do with previous experience. The average European associates a murderer with a machine gun less with potential reality than a former child soldier from Uganda.

Recorded by Natalie Steinmann