Why Watching Scary Movies Can Benefit Our Health

A UD psychology professor says seeing horror films can improve our well-being. Results of various studies support his claim.

Planning on taking in a horror flick this Halloween? 

Turns out, a bit of fear may be just what the doctor ordered.

Horror movies aren’t just effective at creeping us out; they also appear to have some surprising benefits for our mental and physical health.

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“Fear is an exciting emotion,” says Jeffrey Rosen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Delaware. “There are a lot of physiological responses to it.”

Watching scary movies can … 

… burn calories. Researchers in the United Kingdom found that 90 minutes of adrenaline-pumping terror can burn as much as 200 calories—close to the amount burned during a half-hour power walk, or the amount consumed after eating a chocolate bar. Their suggestions: “The Shining” (184 calories); “Jaws” (161 calories); “The Exorcist” (158 calories); “Alien” (152 calories); “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (118 calories); “Paranormal Activity” (111 calories); “The Blair Witch Project” (105 calories); “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (107 calories) and “[Rec]” (101 calories).

… boost our immune system. A study performed on 32 males and females revealed some interesting things about the way scary movies affect our bodies. Researchers found that watching horror movies caused a rise in the body’s level of active white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s first line of defense against viruses and bacteria.

… make us feel good. Honestly. Fear is a natural high, says UD’s Rosen—whose research focuses on the physiological basis of fear and anxiety. Here’s how it works: As carnage continues during a horror movie, our brains get flooded with a slew of feel-good chemicals like adrenaline, endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, producing thrills to go with the chills. “Our heart rate goes up, we get sweaty, we jump if something comes out and scares us—and we kind of like that feeling,” he says.

… help us deal with our fears and phobias. 

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Watching horror movies is beneficial to our DNA, according to research done by doctoral student Mathias Clasen at Denmark’s Aarhus University. Clasen says that although we’re hard-wired to be prepared for danger, our everyday environments don’t usually put us in such a state. Watching horror movies, he argues, allows us to fulfill our innate desire to act out our fear response, albeit in a safe setting.

… lead to physical attraction. 

Political correctness aside, studies have shown that fear can prompt us to revert to traditional gender roles. Results of one study from the late 1980s showed that females found their male companions more attractive when they remained calm and unmoved during a film. Moreover, males who were initially judged unattractive were later found more appealing if they had displayed courage during the film. On the other hand, males found the females more attractive if they had appeared vulnerable.

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