Horror Movies Relieve Anxiety for College Students


Photo by Jose Francisco Morales/Unsplash

Sara Kitchin, Staff Writer

OPINION — The recreational fear derived from horror movies is enjoyed by some and avoided at all costs by others. However, there is controversy surrounding whether horror movies negatively or positively affect the human brain. 

Horror movies are commonly thought to trigger unwanted images, causing panic that can negatively impact mental health.

There are psychological reasons and physical chemical makeups that dictate this desire, or lack thereof, to watch scary scenes.

Horror typically causes those with higher levels of anxiety to trigger panic and confuse this feeling for a real-life threat. 

Professor Mathias Clasen at Aarhaus Univerisity specializes in the effects of horror mentally and physically. Clasen explains that although horror can provoke stress, it can also help those who are anxiety-prone to separate fiction from reality after becoming more accustomed.

“When you watch a scary movie,” Clasen said. “You’re actively regulating your own emotions, for example by reminding yourself that it’s just fiction or covering your eyes or controlling your breathing.”

The American Psychological Association defines this practice as exposure therapy. Exposure therapy was created to help people face their fears to break the pattern of avoidance in a safe environment.

Exposure can help with multiple fears, including phobias, social anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and other fears that may contribute to feelings experienced while watching a scary movie. 

However, it is important to know your limits and stick to them. Having fun while experiencing a thrill comes through choosing to face your fears of your own accord. 

Associate professor Michelle Cutler of clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology describes the importance of control in a spooky environment. 

“When something is controllable when we know that we’re choosing to do it,” Cutler said. “We know when it’s going to start and end, we know that we can get out of it, that makes us have agency in the situation.”

Not only can horror movies contribute to the elimination of former anxiety, but they also help to advance brain activity.

In scenarios where people feel as if they are put in a spot to immediately react, a rush of adrenaline releases neurotransmitters in the brain. This can cause one to perform in ways that they could not while fully relaxed. 

The release of neurotransmitters leads to faster reactions, a higher level of focus and the ability to be more alert. 

After viewers experience an accelerated heart rate and heavy breathing while curled up under a blanket in anticipation, they feel a sense of relief after the fear is released.

Chainsaw-handling psychopaths may not be the image in mind when thinking of an anxiety release. However, checking out of the real world for a moment with a thrill or two might just be more beneficial than you realize.