This Your Brain On Horror

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 27 2011 @ 2:30pm

Science helps explain our fascination with scary movies:

A 1995 study found that the higher people score on a scale that measures sensation-seeking, the more they like horror films. “There are people who have a tremendous need for stimulation and excitement,” says Fischoff. “Horror movies are one of the better ways to get really excited.”

That may explain why horror movies are most popular with younger audiences. Teens and twenty-somethings “are more likely to look for intense experiences,” says John Edward Campbell, an expert in media studies at Temple University. That fades with age, especially as people become more sensitive to their own physiology: middle-aged and older adults tend not to seek out experiences that make their hearts race, and feel that real life is scary enough. (Did we mention foreclosure? Unemployment? Divorce?) They don’t need to get their scares from movies. Or as Fischoff puts it, “Older people have stimulation fatigue. Life’s [real] horrors scare them, or they don’t find them entertaining any more—or interesting.”