Horror films may serve as a coping mechanism, experts say



HORROR MAY not always be a breeze to watch as it can bring traumas and other mental health issues to some, but in other cases, watching these kinds of films can be a way to release emotions that cannot be expressed in real life.

Zachia Domingo, a behavioral science sophomore, said horror films helped her process suppressed emotions.

“Horror films affected my mental health in a positive way since it helped me get a lot of emotions out of my system,” Domingo said.

English Language Studies sophomore Joyce Estrella said watching horror movies has helped tap into her feelings and experience stronger emotions during a dull day.

Estrella and Domingo admitted that horror films provide excitement and thrill rather than fright because these movies make them feel challenged.

Their view is shared by some psychologists who concluded that horror films serve as a coping mechanism for horror enthusiasts.

The genre heightens people’s senses and makes them more prepared in handling unfavorable life situations as it allows viewers to engage positively with the film, UST Behavioral Science professor Gian Carlo Ledesma told The Flame.

“The engagement changes behaviors of people as they also create certain actions such as the closing of the eyes, covering of the eyes, shouting, and other overt actions that allow for active expression in the material rendering them to stay active and remove themselves from life’s passivity,” Ledesma said.

Watching horror films could also be a form of catharsis and could release happy hormones for some people, which could help them detach from stressful situations, he added.

Psychology professor Rudy Danganan Jr. said studies in Developmental Psychology suggest that allowing children to watch horror films could develop “cognitive” and “non-cognitive” coping strategies that can be useful in real-life situations.

“This also gives viewers an opportunity to confront one’s fears—in a sense that knowing they’re going to be scared deliberately by the film, they still proactively approach and seek it,” Danganan told The Flame.

Danganan explained this behavior by citing the excitation transfer theory, which states that the greater the tension created from the events of the film, the greater the satisfaction one can acquire.

In rare cases, horror films may elicit intense emotions but several studies also suggest they may not have significant long-term effects that can impair one’s mental, social, and occupational function, Danganan said.

“There are studies that suggest that horror films can cause extreme emotions, abnormal stress and/or distress reactions—to the extent of needing psychological intervention,” he added.

Increase in anxiety, depression

While horror movies may not be absolutely dangerous for one’s mental health, Ledesma said the “tolerance level” of individuals should always be considered when watching films that belong to the genre.

Low tolerance for such films could increase anxiety, depression, and even panic attacks from “certain images may remain clear even after being exposed to the movies,” he added.

Some people’s enthusiasm for horror movies also has limits on subgenres that entail gore or scenes that show vivid or graphic violence.

Others completely avoid watching horror movies due to their unsettling nature and elements that can trigger them.

“I dislike horror movies because I do not want the feeling of getting startled. The sound effects and jumpscares also trigger anxious feelings,” Behavioral Science sophomore Denise Sia said.

Ledesma said the fear from horror films comes from repeated situations that an individual has encountered, yet their feelings remain unprocessed.

“Repeated exposure to certain stimuli out of your own will and without the necessary processing of experiences can perhaps contribute to this situation.  If our experiences remain unprocessed or unexplained, it will be difficult for us to process fears so they remain as fears for the rest of people’s lives,” Ledesma said. F


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