Why do People Watch Horror?
Suspense and resolution of suspense are two important components of horror and our response to Horror movie . Suspense refers to the build up to threat, the tension created prior to the manifestation of threat, and the resolution/elimination of threat. It has been defined as “acute, fearful apprehension about deplorable events that threatens liked protagonists” and “an experience of uncertainty whose hedonic properties can vary from noxious to pleasant” (Zillmann, 1996, p. 108). The tension created during the feeling of suspense can arise from events, which signify conflict, dissonance, and instability (Lehne and Koelsch, 2015). One theory of horror enjoyment, Zillmann’s (1980, 1996) excitation transfer theory, argues that we derive our enjoyment of horror film from this feeling of suspense (this theory might also explain the enjoyment of non-horror film, which involves the invocation of suspense). When a threat is resolved, our negative affect converts to euphoria and suspense ends. The vital aspect of the theory is that enjoyment is derived from the degree of negative affect built up during exposure to the horror film and from the positive affect/reaction that results from the resolution of the threat. If the resolution does not occur, then residual negative affect will lead to increased dysphoria. If there is no suspense but a complete certainty about what will happen, suspense is replaced by dread (Oliver, 1993a,b). Very few studies have tested the theory, although limited reviews provide some support for the model (Hoffner and Levine, 2005). Zillmann et al. (1975) showed children animated cartoons that varied in suspense and measured participants’ facial expressions, physiological arousal, and cognitive responses. They found that liking of the film increased as suspense increased. Liking was especially great when the threat was overcome, but the relationship between fear and liking was not examined in the study.
An alternative model to Zillmann’s suggests that enjoyment is associated with the presence of destruction, excitement, and unpredictability in films (Sparks, 1986a,b; Tamborini et al., 1987; Tamborini and Stiff, 1987). This model, the uses and gratification theory of film consumption (Katz et al., 1973; Palmgreen, 1984), argues that the enjoyment and seeking out of material are determined by their specific need for stimulation and the satisfaction they derive following the achievement of gratification. Some research suggests that certain personality types and individuals who are high or low on some psychological traits may seek out horror or violent material for gratification but that the material itself may not always provide this satisfaction (see the Individual Differences section below). Sensation seeking, verbal aggression, and argumentativeness, for example, have been found to be positively correlated with enjoyment of horror and violent films, but these are not consistent predictors of liking for horror/violent material (Greene and Krcmar, 2005).
It has been proposed that arousal itself might be self-rewarding – the act of watching horror provides us with a thrill regardless of the resolution and we like and enjoy the film for this reason (Tamborini, 1991). The pleasurable experience of arousal motivates us to continue watching in order to sustain that level of arousal, as Berlyne (1967) suggests. Sparks and Spirek (1988), for example, found a positive correlation between skin conductance (a physiological measure of emotional arousal) and self-reported arousal in people who watched a clip of A Nightmare On Elm Street, suggesting that the arousal we report also correlates at the physiological level, although whether the psychophysiological changes determine the arousal or the cognitive and emotional arousals (the interpretation of the material) determine the psychophysiological changes is an argument, which dates back to James.