05 March 2021

Pandemic Prep Horror Flicks

Welcome back. When my daughter, Rachel, was old enough to see most movies if accompanied by an adult, she convinced (OK, conned) me into taking her to see one of the Halloween movies. I gave in, envisioning Psycho, which scared me out of my seat some 20 years earlier. I was not prepared for the horror genre we witnessed. At one point, I remember whispering, “This is disgusting, not scary.”

Poster for Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho
(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho_(1960_film)#/).
Rachel grew up to be a big fan of all manner of horror flicks, and that may have helped prepare her for the COVID-19 pandemic. At least that’s what a recent study suggests.

Relating Scary Fictional Experiences with Pandemic
One reason some people get off on scary fictional experiences is that the experiences are simulations that can provide information to model possible occurrences.

A team of researchers affiliated with The University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University and Denmark’s Aarhus University pursued that thought, linking it to the pandemic.

They tested whether past and current engagement with thematically relevant media fiction, including horror and pandemic movies, was associated with greater preparedness for and psychological resilience toward the pandemic. This was done through an online survey of 310 participants. 

Poster for Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 pandemic
Contagion (from www.un.org/en/ccoi/contagion).
The researchers first assessed each participant’s positive and negative resilience and preparedness for the pandemic; then the extent to which participants were fans of horror, zombie, psychological thriller, supernatural, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, science fiction, alien-invasion, crime, comedy and romance genres in movies and television; and finally, the participants’ past and present experience with and interest in films that were explicitly about pandemics. Other survey questions were posed as controls.

Wrap Up
The study found that fans of horror movies exhibited less psychological distress during the pandemic, while fans of prepper genres (alien-invasion, apocalyptic and zombie movies) exhibited both greater resilience and preparedness. Morbid curiosity, which had been associated with horror media in earlier work, was associated with positive resilience and interest in pandemic movies.

Taken together, the findings were consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can indeed be beneficial in real-world situations, such as the pandemic.

Scary movies might help prepare you for the next pandemic
(Photo from multiple websites used in earlier blog post,
This is Scary!).
Thanks for stopping by. Oh, wait. What’s on television tonight?

Study of scary fictional experiences and the pandemic in Personality and Individual Differences journal: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886920305882?via%3Dihub
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/ps-zmp011121.php

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