Turns out all those hours spent watching post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows weren’t wasted and everyone who started watching movies like “Contagion” at the start of the pandemic had the right idea.
A new study found that people who watched these types of horror movies were actually better prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic than people who didn’t abuse seasons of The Walking Dead.
“After controlling for personality influences, which were actually quite strong, we found that the more movies people had seen about zombies, alien invasions and apocalyptic pandemics before Covid-19, the better they handled the current pandemic. These types of movies apparently serve as mental rehearsals for real events,” explained one of the study’s authors, John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State.
The study, published in the journal Personality and individual differences last week surveyed more than 300 people on topics including personality, readiness and resilience. He also obviously asked what type of film and TV genres they were fans of, such as horror, psychological thriller, crime, comedy or romance.
Additionally, participants were asked about past and present experience with and interest in films that explicitly addressed pandemics as well as other issues as controls.
“My colleagues wanted to identify factors beyond personality that contribute to people’s psychological preparedness and resilience in the face of the pandemic,” Johnson said.
“What we found was that people who watched certain types of movies before the pandemic seemed to be helped by them during the pandemic.”
The study authors found that those who indicated they were horror fans and “engaged in spooky fictional phenomena more frequently” reported lower levels of distress during the pandemic.
Coltan Scrivner, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, explained in a interview with CTV News that the results could be partly due to the fact that people who watch a lot of horror movies are frequently exposed to fear in a safe setting.
“The idea is that they can kind of train to feel anxious or train to be afraid or get over that or be okay with that, so when something happens in their life that scares or makes them anxious, they are better able to handle it or have more tools they are equipped to deal with it,” he explained.
Horror fiction allows its audience to practice “emotion regulation skills” and “hone strategies for coping with fear,” the researchers wrote in the study.
But the study’s findings could also give everyone a valid excuse to keep watching everything on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.
“For me, that implies an even bigger message about stories in general – whether in books, movies or plays. Stories are not just entertainment, but preparation for life,” Johnson added.
But when it comes to helping with the current pandemic situation, Johnson doesn’t think catching up on horror movies will help much.
“I’m not sure watching movies like that now would be helpful for our current situation,” he said.
Even if there is always the following…
“My understanding of pandemics and other difficult life events is that similar future challenges are absolutely inevitable. The past is often too easily forgotten. Who remembered the Spanish flu epidemic until the scientists bring up this piece of history during Covid-19? It reinforces my belief that consuming stories from books, movies and maybe even video games is not just an idle pastime, but a means for us to imagine simulated realities that help prepare us for future challenges,” Johnson said.
However, Scrivner added that this preparation method might not be for everyone.
“People kind of know that if horror movies make them really anxious, it’s probably a bad idea to start watching them now to try and reduce your anxiety,” he said.
But if you like horror movies, Scrivner thinks this might be the best way to deal with a pandemic.
“If you don’t absolutely hate horror movies, maybe watching stuff that scares you a little once in a while is kind of a psychological vaccine, but that’s speculation.”
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