Q. How does watching horror movies and slasher films affect the brain, or do they?

  • Everything impacts your brain, positively or negatively, desirable or undesirable. Neurocinematics is a relatively new science that studies the impact of movies on the brain. Horror movies have been described as a genre of speculative fiction that is intended to frighten, scare, shock, or disgust the viewer. What has neuroscience discovered?
  • Those who watch horror movies tend to have a similar emotional response in their brain. Over time, however, the brain can become desensitized to the horror, resulting in a diminished emotional response to any type of emotion: negative, aversive, or positive, gradually becoming less sympathetic and empathetic.
  • Scary movies tap directly into the fight-or-flight response that begins in the amygdala, which sounds an alarm whether or not there is any real danger. It activates the hypothalamus, which tells your adrenal glands to inject you with an enormous boost of adrenaline that causes your heart to pound faster and may cause sweating.
  • As adrenalin goes up so does dopamine to help you feel better and counteract the alarm. The outcome is that a person can become addicted to the adrenalin rush and the feel better dopamine chemical and keep watching horror/slasher movies to trigger the chemical release.
  • When intensity comes to the brain in two or more senses, the input bypasses the conscious brain and goes directly into the subconscious. Visually you take in the pictures, auditorily you take in the music designed to send chills down your spine, which may activate the same genetically hardwired response pathway triggered by a wailing or screaming child. Kinesthetically, you are experiencing the adrenal/dopamine rush through clenched teeth and tight muscles.
  • Images stored in the subconscious can trigger an urge for some type of copycat behaviors. I sometimes wonder if drive-by shootings or running vehicles into a crowd or a suicide bombing once were just pictures in a horror film.