Questions for ‘What’s the fun in fear? Science explores the appeal of scary movies’  

four teenagers sit on a couch in a darkened room, screaming or covering their eyes in response to something unseen on a TV

October is prime time for watching scary movies with friends. But researchers are still trying to understand why it’s so fun to watch a film designed to freak you out.

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To accompany What’s the fun in fear? Science explores the appeal of scary movies


Before Reading:

  1. Rank your love for scary movies on a scale of one to 10, with 10 identifying that horror is your favorite genre and one noting that horror is your least favorite. In a sentence or two, briefly explain why you feel that way about horror movies.
  2. What was a movie that scared you when you were younger? Briefly describe a scene in it that felt really scary. Think about your body’s response to fear. When you are scared, how might your heart rate change? Describe your own body’s general fear response during a scary movie. For example, do you clench your hands together, bite your fingernails or carry out some other kind of body tick or reaction? 

During Reading:

  1. A paradox is a statement or idea that seems to contradict itself. What is the “paradox of horror” as described by Mathias Clasen? How might understanding this “curious quirk” of human behavior help people in real life?
  2. Describe one of the motives people have for watching scary movies, as explained by Margee Kerr.
  3. List the three types of horror-movie fans Clasen and his team identified.
  4. Approximately how many of the 260 visitors at the Pittsburgh haunted house reported a mood boost after visiting the haunt? 
  5. What is “need for affect”? Describe how people who ranked higher in this trait reflected differently upon an emotion-provoking movie scene compared with people lower in this trait.
  6. According to Coltan Scrivner, how might watching horror help some people become more resilient?
  7. List three of the five horror films mentioned in this story.
  8. In a study of more than 300 people, did horror fans report levels of COVID-19 pandemic stress as higher, lower or the same as people who did not like horror films? Why does Clasen caution that this study “should not be taken as proof”? 

After Reading:

  1. The story describes how in some cases, scary movies may “help people do mental dress rehearsals for navigating real crises.” What does this mean? What is an example of a movie that, in your opinion, may be able to help people in this way if a crisis were ever to occur?
  2. Kerr says one way to “stress-test” yourself is to write your own horror-movie script. If you were to write a horror movie, what kind would you write? A monster movie, maybe? Or a ghost story? Or a movie about a killer? In one or two sentences, write down a horror-film premise. Then describe your story’s setting. For example, would your story take place in a swamp? A small town? A futuristic space station? Feel free to be creative!