Artifact #4- The Aesthetics of Horror

Topic: The Aesthetics of Horror


Course Objectives:

-Explore the psychological and emotional curiosity for and impact of horror art on individuals and society

-Analyze the unique aesthetic qualities of art

Artifact: Enjoying Horror Research:

For this assignment, we were to research the topic enjoying horror. We had to find two articles that discussed the issues raised by the reading. Then, we wrote a page about each article we found.

1. Fink, L. (2009). Horror movies: Why people love them. LiveScience. Retrieved May 6, 2010, from

The first article was called Horror Movies: Why People Love Them. As you might be able to guess from the name, it asks the question of why people pay money to watch a movie that many consider repulsive and horrifying. One reason is because of the desired effect of the movie. People want to be frightened, otherwise they wouldn’t do it twice. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht says, “You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you”. People who watch horror movies want the movie to frighten them. Some other reasons mentioned as to why we put ourselves through this kind of horror is enjoying the adrenaline rush, being distracted from mundane life, vicariously thumbing our noses at social norms, and enjoying a voyeuristic glimpse of the horrific from a safe distance. It is important to note that people have the ability to pay attention to the movie as much or as little as they want, thus controlling what effect it has on them. The article also explains that fear is an emotion derived from deep-seeded evolutionary factors. This may explain why it is hard for us to turn off emotions once those emotions have been aroused. That is why people may get so eager to turn it back on again, and keep watching.

In the Paradox of Horror article by Berys Gaut, he explains the curiosity factor that draws us to watch scary movies. Gaut explains, “Moreover, because we know that the monsters are only fictional, the fear and disgust they arouse in use are muted in comparison with what they would be if we were to meet such monsters in real life, which allows the pleasures of curiosity more easily to outweigh the displeasures of fear and disgust” (P. 296). This goes along with the idea from the first article that one is able to enjoy a glimpse of the horror from a safe distance. Another point Gaut makes is how successful the producers have become in achieving the effect or fear and disgust in the audience. These movies are for entertainments sake, and producers want to provide the audience with enjoyable experiences. Gaut concludes on this point by saying, “The simplest, most straightforward explanation of the phenomenon of horror is that sometimes people enjoy being scared” (P. 299). This was a huge point made in the first reading. It is the desired effect of the movie. People go to a horror movie in order to be frightened because they enjoy being that emotion. While Gaut made many other points that didn’t correspond to the first reading, I believe that these two reasons are the best explanations as to why we love horror.

 2. Lumb, R., Miller, R., & Patton, T. (2009). Why do people like horror movies? The Jacksonville Observer. Retrieved May 6, 2010, from

Why Do People Like Horror Movies explores the two questions: who watches horror movies and why? There are many reasons listed as to why people put themselves through these horrifying movies. One reason is simply for the thrill of it. These people enjoy the adrenaline rush, they like feeling their heart beating faster, they enjoy the biological fight-or-flight response. Another reason says that young people in particular are wired for this kind of activity. Media psychologist Stuart Fischoff comments, “[adolescents] have a need for a higher intensity level, for louder music, faster cars”. Some people hold that the safe fright of horror movies serves an evolutionary purpose. Adolescents, who are shown to enjoy horror movies the most, may be unconsciously trying to get themselves ready to be adults. They are just developmentally beginning to face adult responsibilities and look at the world through an adults eyes, so they seek out these frightening experiences. Scary movies also can be used to relieve tension, the relief following the terror makes all the suffering worthwhile. People like to see justice served, some people enjoy violence in horror movies when it’s directed against someone they believe to be deserving of that violence. The last unique point that the article suggested was for the “snuggle theory”.  For young adults, reaction to a horror movie may be linked to sex appeal. A study conducted at Indiana University found that the more distressed a woman at a scary movie was, the more attractive her date found her. Conversely, the less distressed the man was, the more attractive his date found him to be.

In his article, Noel Carroll discusses the fact that people are curious, they want to see what happens. They are drawn into how the upcoming scenes are incorporated into the plot. Carroll says that a horror story is driven by curiosity, “It engages the audience by being involved in the processes of disclosure, discovery, proof, explanation, hypothesis, and confirmation” (Pg. 279).  I believe that this goes along with the other articles ideas that people want to see justice served, and that the confirmation and resolution at the end can relieve their tension.

The rest of the issues raised in the first article were very different in relation to the issues raised in Carroll and Gaut’s articles. The research article chose to focus more on specific age groups while the others explained horror more in general. I think it is important to note the points raised in the research article, because although they are not as scientific as the other articles points, they are valid. I can relate to their ideas because I am a young person and understand exactly what they are talking about. The difference between the two articles just reiterates the fact that there is no real answer to the question of why people love horror movies. It all just depends on who you are and what your taste is.


I was very excited upon starting this assignment because this subject has always been something that has affected my life, yet I have never thought much about it, probably because it affected my life in a negative way. I have never been a fan of horror movies and I don’t think I will ever be. For me, being scared was a horrible feeling and certainly not something to look forward to. I could never understand why somebody would choose to be scared. The question of why people enjoyed watching horror movies boggled my mind. I wanted to know what it was about horror films that drew people in.

 This assignment allowed me to explore the psychological and emotional curiosity for horror films, thus fulfilling the first objective. I guess I always assumed that people who liked scary movies were just gross and demented, I didn’t actually think about valid reasons as to why this industry was so popular. Through the reading by Gaut, I was introduced to some new concepts. He evaluated many different ideas of why people liked horror films and then deconstructed these ideas. It was interesting for me to hear these ideas, see how I felt about them, and then hear his ideas as to why they didn’t make sense. Through this process, I was able to explore and formulate my own meanings as to why people enjoy horror.

Researching the articles helped to further formulate my ideas. I felt like the columnists were more relatable to a typical person, they seemed more main-stream. Because of this, it was very interesting reading about some of their ideas and seeing how they compared to Gaut. There were many similarities between the readings. Ultimately, I decided that control and the desired effect seemed like the most valid answers to my question of why people enjoy horror. Fink discussed the desired effect idea in her article. She includes in her article a statement from a professor of psychology, Jeffrey Goldstein that says, “People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice”. This made complete sense to me.

The control theory was an idea that Gaut deconstructed. However in this case, what he said did not make sense to me, therefore made me believe the claim in which he deconstructed. The control theory basically says that people are able to direct their thoughts and actions when they know what they are getting into. Gaut says,  “ But the control thesis leaves it utterly mysterious how the mere fact that I can choose to attend or not to an otherwise unpleasant emotion, such as fear, could render that emotion pleasant” (P. 300). Due to personal experience, I think that his statement is false. When I choose to go to a movie, I have a different attitude than when I am forced to go. I will be much more receptive to the movie if it is something that I wanted to see in the first place. Being able to evaluate the different people’s ideas allowed me to make a decision for myself. I enjoyed analyzing the aesthetics of horror and have much more knowledge on the subject after completing this assignment.

Learning goals for the future:

I would like to continue researching the subject of horror more in depth. While I found good ideas as to why people enjoy horror, I feel like there is still more to be learned. From now on when I watch a scary movie, I will apply the knowledge that I learned in this class. I will compare certain scary movies to others and find out if I prefer one better and why. I will take the different factors into account that I learned about, such as curiosity and entertainment value. I will try to look at the aesthetics of the horror and try to view it as an art form. By doing this, I will find out if my views change at all when watching a horror movie. Who knows, maybe I will begin to enjoy them.


Carroll, N. (2002). Why Horror?. In Neill, A. & Riley, A. (eds.) Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates (2nd ed., Chap. 17). New York, NY: Routledge.

Gaut, B. (2002). The Paradox of Horror. In Neill, A. & Riley, A. (eds.) Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates (2nd ed., Chap. 18). New York, NY: Routledge

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