People who like to watch apocalyptic horror movies appear to be better prepared to handle the reality of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a new study found. According to the Guardian, researchers at the University of Chicago have found that horror film lovers “tended to have less psychological distress” than people who don’t indulge in frightening films.
Psychologists found that people who watch movies featuring zombies, aliens, infectious diseases, and other situations that threaten the global order actually learn by watching the films how to react when reality imitates fiction.
Coltan Scrivner, a psychologist who studies morbid curiosity at UC, said that the desolate timelines featured in films like Contagion allow people to mentally rehearse the scenario before it happens.
“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.”
Researchers looked at 310 people who have viewed a variety of films and then asked about how much mental anguish they’d experienced during the pandemic. Those who have higher levels of anxiety, depression, general irritability, and insomnia tended to be those who didn’t watch horror films.
Meanwhile, horror movie fans, particularly those who watched movies featuring the collapse of society, seemed better off mentally.
Scrivner hypothesizes that part of the benefit is that people who watch apocalyptic movies have seen it all before.
“You’ve seen it a hundred times in the movies, so it doesn’t catch you off-guard so much,” he said.
He also says that horror movie lovers likely get a sense of safety from watching these types of films. It gives them a way to watch horrifying scenarios play out so that they feel prepared in the future if the situation comes true. For those who don’t watch horror films, they may be psychologically less prepared.
Scrivner compared the current crisis to scenes in the film Contagion, starring Matt Damon, who recently revealed that his daughter had COVID-19. The film has gained renewed attention lately for its similarity to what is playing out in the U.S. today. In the film, a virus that started in animals spread to humans and was brought around the world, rapidly killing millions. One character claimed that there was a miracle cure to the virus that was being suppressed by scientists.
“It’s similar to what’s happening with the antimalarial drug,” he said.
“There are always going to be people who tout miracle cures in the face of something like that and one thing you take away is perhaps you should be skeptical.”