Horror genre offers stress handling, social commentary, builds relationships

Most people have their own varying opinion of horror movies. Some hate when a plot twist makes them jump while others live for the suspense or the thrill. Objectively speaking, though whatever your opinion may be, horror movies are actually good for society and even for your health.

As off-putting as it may seem, horror movies can be psychologically therapeutic. They allow the human brain to be exposed to ideas of fear and death in a safe environment, allowing a greater feeling of control. Your body will tell you you need to be afraid, but you know you are not actually in any real danger. This idea is called the “surrogacy theory” by many scholars because it allows people to experience certain stressors through a “surrogate” story, or a horror film.

According to psychotherapist Kurt Oakley, the surrogacy effect actually releases stress and promotes healthier coping mechanisms. When exposed to stress in a controlled movie environment, people don’t cope with the stress in the same unhealthy ways that they may have otherwise. Instead, they learn to manage their stress in the moment, which over time can improve your ability to handle stressful situations in the real world.

Horror movies can work as coping mechanisms themselves, and can become alternatives for more dangerous methods of relieving stress. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information on the biological impacts of childhood trauma explained that in the case of people with PTSD, feelings of fear and stress can be comforting and many people seek out such feelings. Often the familiarity in the stress of horror films allows for a feeling of control that can be therapeutic.

In addition to the psychological benefits of horror movies, the different perspectives they can bring is another way they are good for society. A lot of popular horror films have abstract ideas that relay messages about society that a lot of people often miss. A common example is “Get Out,” which alludes to society’s past racism and how that is still interlinked with the present. Other examples include “Godzilla,” which symbolizes the dangers and potential impacts of nuclear warfare, and “The Purge,” which highlights problems with political structure and divisions.

Social commentary in horror films give them more depth beyond just including ghosts and jumpscares. There is more meaning behind a movie that critiques society, and the promotion of different perspectives provides an enrichment that viewers would not receive watching a rom-com or an action movie.

Furthermore, highlighting societal issues, even in an entertaining way, spreads awareness and sparks a desire for change in viewers. Seeing the dystopian world of “Godzilla” promotes an uneasiness surrounding the idea of nuclear war, which is a very real and pressing concern in today’s world. Even just that awareness allows for conversation around topics that should be taken seriously in society.

Finally, the mere social aspect of horror movies is part of what makes them so beneficial. Watching a horror movie with people you love facilitates a close, vulnerable environment that no other movie genre can. Being afraid while still having people you care about around you strengthens relationships.

A study from UCLA supports this idea. It found that during horror films, the hormone oxytocin is released in the brain; this is the same hormone that is released when you hug or kiss a loved one. Another name for this hormone is the “attachment hormone” because it promotes bonding and strengthening of relationships.

Overall, whatever your personal opinion on horror movies may be, they have a myriad of big-picture benefits for your health and the health of society. It is irrefutable that horror films aid in the release of stress, provide crucial perspectives on social issues, and strengthen human connections.