Scary movies can have therapeutic benefits: Psychiatrist

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — Want a good excuse to watch a scary movie this Halloween? Well, now, you may have one because researchers have found watching horror films might actually lead to lower stress in everyday life.

“Never underestimate the therapeutic benefit of a good scary movie,” forensic psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Bober said.

Watching scary movies activates the body’s threat response system, otherwise known as “fight or flight,” Bober said. He explained structures such as the prefrontal cortex, the insula and the amygdala are all involved in responding to a threat.

However, each threat level and how it is perceived depends on the individual. Some people might find something less frightening than others.

When watching a scary movie from the comfort of your own home, Bober said it is easier to face one’s fears without the threat of something actually happening to them.

“The short-term stress of watching a scary movie may actually be good for your immune system and helps you cope with other stress in your life by teaching you how to self-regulate your emotions,” Bober said.

Researchers looked at this and found that people watching scary movies conform to what experts call an “inverted U curve,” meaning if it’s not scary enough, it’s boring, or if it’s too scary, it’s overwhelming.

Bober said this depends on the individual as well.

A study posted in the National Library of Medicine found evidence suggesting during the pandemic, people who watched scary movies fared better because the movies actually gave them something concrete to focus on to confront their fears. Then, when they actually had real fear in their life, they learned to habituate or self-regulate.

“It actually had a therapeutic benefit,” Bober said.

Bober’s two personal favorites to watch are “The Exorcist” and “The Shining.”

He also said it has been discovered that people enjoy scary movies more when they watch them with other people who find scary movies entertaining.

However, Bober did warn that scary movies based on reality tend to be more frightening. But for scary movie lovers, that means they are more entertaining and much more exhilarating to watch.

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