How Do Horror Movies Affect Your Brain? Here’s What Loving Or Hating Them Says About Your Personality, According To Experts

Hannah Burton/Bustle

While lots of people love creepy horror movies, if you're anything like me, you probably can't stand them. Nope. Sure, a suspenseful film is fine, but gory slasher flicks? Hard pass. But if most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum between loving and hating them, what does hating horror movies say about your personality?

"There are several personality characteristics that might attract certain people to the type of experience that a horror film can provide," Dr. Madeline William, PsyD., a psychologist who treats patients via the telehealth app LiveHealth Online, tells Bustle via email. Dr. William further notes that people who like horror films might enjoy empathizing with the more complex characters often featured in the genre, while others might enjoy the hyper-stimulation and suspense of horror films. "They may be individuals who have a strong sense of morality who enjoy seeing wrongs being righted," Dr. William says.

According to the Conversation, there may be some benefits to seeking out fear for fun. In order to better understand why so many people love terrifying entertainment, a group of researchers recently set up a mobile lab in the basement of an adults-only haunted house attraction outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For a period of about 35 minutes, guests of the haunted house were exposed to disturbing characters and special effects, were also physically touched by the actors, and were even exposed to electrical shocks. The attraction was, in a word, extreme, and “not for the faint of heart,” the Conversation reports.

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But interestingly, researchers found that guests reported a significant uptick in positive moods after experiencing the haunted attraction. In fact, the more they experienced the house as being intense and scary, the better they felt afterwards. Participants also reported that the process of experiencing fear in a controlled environment produced greater self-awareness as they confronted their fears. Analysis of brain wave activity also suggested that brain reactivity was significantly decreased after experiencing the attraction in those who reported mood improvements, which is also reported in those who practice mindfulness meditation.

The study’s authors suggest that horror films and entertainment involving extreme fear allow people to process the most difficult aspects of the human experience — like why unfair things happen to good people — within a protective container of sorts. After all, a movie is ultimately entertainment, and not real life. So, there can be some benefits to being “safely scared.”

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But PsychCentral reports that stress may be experienced differently for people who can't stand horror films. People who have negative reactions to horror movies and super scary entertainment may have difficulty filtering out undesirable environmental stimuli, according to PsychCentral. Simply put, highly sensitive people may struggle to process the intense images, and emotional and psychological arousal, that hyper frightening entertainment can bring about. These same people may have more intense negative psychological reactions to horror films.

According to psychotherapist Margena Carter of Carter Care Therapeutic Services, there are pitfalls to watching horror films for some people. "For horror enthusiasts, the film genre can boost a person's fear of death, spur hyper vigilance, or increase one's awareness of [their] own mortality," Carter tells Bustle. Carter suggests that people who enjoy horror movies may have characteristics of a Type D personality — aka, "distressed, negative, depressed and socially inhibited" — while people who hate them may have Type A characteristics — "practical, impatient and controlling," she says. "Also, horror films may cause nightmares or night terrors. And depending on one's life experience, a scary movie can trigger feelings of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."

So, if scary movies don't work for you, there are totally logical reasons for that. And if you love them and get a sense of catharsis from the experience, then that works, too. If you do find that horror films produce some negative effects — like increased stress, sleep disturbances, or trauma symptoms — then definitely skip that flick. You can still enjoy Halloween while seeking out less terrifying forms of entertainment.