We spend most of our lives purposely trying to avoid discomfort. It’s a primal drive to seek security and avoid pain.
So what’s with the human fascination for horror?
Surely, it makes no sense to go out of our way to scare ourselves, let alone to see it as entertaining to do so.
That’s why it’s so interesting that up to half the population loves scary movies.
Have you ever wondered what drives some of us to seek out these spine-tingling experiences?
Are certain personalities more likely to get a kick out of fear?
Researchers have been curious to find out and have discovered some telling results.
So let’s dive in and look at the personality traits of people who enjoy horror movies.
1) They’re sensation-seeking
This is probably the crux of it:
Do you get a rush out of fear, or not?
I’m no thrill seeker, I don’t even like theme park rides. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I simply cannot cope with horror films.
But horror movie enthusiasts are far more likely to be sensation-seekers.
So says an extensive review of the literature on horror that was published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2019.
The measure of sensation-seeking can be broken down into four different factors:
- Thrill and adventure-seeking
- Experience seeking
- Disinhibition (aka more impulsive)
- Boredom susceptibility
Along with some other traits we’re about to look into in more detail, this study noted that these individuals thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from being scared.
They’re also slightly more likely to be extroverted than introverted.
They actively seek out thrilling experiences to feel a sense of excitement and exhilaration.
Horror movies deliver this rush through their suspenseful narratives and fear-inducing elements.
2) They’re imaginative
One model used to try to define personality is known as the Big Five.
It proposes that personality is made up of five core traits: conscientiousness, openness to experience, extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness.
We’ve just discussed horror lovers’ tendency to be open to experience.
But one study that used a version of the Big Five found another trait really stood out as a predictor of horror consumption:
More specifically, it was defined as the ability to engage in imaginative activity.
People who like horror movies often have vivid imaginations.
They are more likely to indulge in fantastical thoughts.
Horror films allow them to engage their imaginative minds and immerse themselves in a world of monsters, ghosts, and otherworldly phenomena.
3) They’re emotionally resilient
As we’ve seen already, people who enjoy horror movies typically have a higher tolerance for intense emotions.
They can also handle fear and anxiety better than others, so they tend to get less stressed and anxious by watching terrifying scenes play out.
This emotional resilience enables them to derive enjoyment from the adrenaline rush without being overwhelmed by negative emotions.
Evidence suggests a type of repressive coping style might help them with this.
One researcher investigated repressive coping styles and enjoyment of horror film stimuli in 59 people.
His study suggests that people who are able to repress negative feelings are more likely to get higher levels of physiological arousal from watching frightening films.
4) They’re curious and creative
Getting a kick out of fear it seems is far from dumb.
Because the research points to the fact that educated people are more likely to enjoy horror.
They possess an insatiable appetite for knowledge and are constantly seeking new experiences.
Perhaps horror movies provide them with an opportunity to explore the darker side of human nature and satisfy their curiosity about the unknown.
Studies also show they score higher on ingenuity, showing horror lovers to be inventive and original.
But that curiosity could also highlight a dark side, as we’ll see next.
5) They’re dark
Take this how you will, but the research does suggest that people who like horror tend to have “darker” personalities.
What exactly does that mean?
Well, these are traits that express some “abnormal, abnormal, sinister, and unpleasant aspect of behavior.”
They include traits like:
- Machiavellianism (aka craving power)
- Narcissism (self-centeredness)
We can break this down slightly more by looking at styles of horror that people may enjoy too.
For example, people who get a kick out of graphic violence score higher for psychopathy.
6) They’re edgy
On the flip side of that slightly unflattering picture painted above, horror lovers are edgier.
Researchers at The University of Cambridge looked at the personality traits of people who like different types of entertainment.
When it comes to those who like so-called “dark” entertainment, the study ultimately summed up these people as:
As well as horror films, these are the people who also gravitate towards punk, heavy metal, cult entertainment, and the erotic.
Basically, entertainment that is “characterized by intensity, edginess, and hedonism.”
They’re most likely the rebels and rule breakers of the group, as they scored high on provocativeness.
Meanwhile, they measured low when it comes to duty, cautiousness, and cooperation. So they probably aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers or stand out from the crowd!
7) They have lower levels of empathy
It’s not a simple picture.
In fact, when it comes to empathy and enjoyment of horror, plenty of research has thrown up a slightly confusing impression, without solid answers.
So it’s not to say that people who gravitate towards horror are totally unfeeling. Certain aspects of empathy rate differently — hence why it’s complex.
But generally speaking, the evidence does suggest that liking horror films is linked to lower empathy levels.
Meanwhile, research shows that people who hate horror have higher levels of empathy.
But wait, there’s also a gender divide
Even though it’s not a personality trait, one thing worth noting from the body of research we’ve delved into is the clear difference between men and women.
Because guys are much more likely to be into horror. They also like graphic horror and violent TV way more than women and girls do.
Perhaps that’s because they seem to handle it a lot better, as women tend to experience greater fear and anxiety from it.
One of the reasons for this is likely to be women’s higher so-called “disgust sensitivity” — aka we get grossed out by it a lot more.
It’s still a bit of a mystery
The truth is there needs to be more research done before we can draw any concrete conclusions about the types of people who enjoy horror movies.
But as we’ve seen, a picture has already started to emerge, and it’s a complex one.
People who gravitate toward fear possess a unique mix of qualities that could make them more inclined toward the genre.
Their curiosity, sensation-seeking nature, openness to experiences, and emotional resilience most likely all contribute to their fascination.
Whilst some want to close their eyes to it, these personalities enjoy exploring the darker side of human nature.
In it, they find excitement, artistic appreciation, and an outlet for their vivid imaginations.
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