Humans have a fascinating history regarding entertainment, from the Collesium’s gladiators of Rome to public executions. Our history suggests we have a morbid fascination with death and dying. The rise in popularity of True Crime docuseries and podcasts would suggest no matter how evolved we think we’ve become over the millennia, our essential nature is to watch in horrified gratification as someone else suffers. Or maybe it’s just empathy? It’s hard to know the reason, for sure. Without a doubt, you know if I’ve posed the question, then scientists and researchers have too. While researching my work-in-progress, Conjoined, I found several interesting articles suggesting horror films are actually good for us. Say what?

The Psychology of Scary Entertainment

In two separate peer-reviewed studies, one found here and the other here, the overwhelming conclusion was that seeing, reading, or listening to content that involves some form of human suffering for entertainment can help those with anxiety while building a sense of resilience and increasing feelings of personal growth. How, you ask?

Well, let’s start with anxiety. If a person suffers from prolonged stress, watching, reading, or listening to something that further promotes anxious thoughts is a form of immersion therapy. Think of someone afraid of flying but decides to take a trip via a plane to face their fear. It’s the same idea. Having to deal with tense situations in a safely controlled environment, and knowing that the outcome will be positive (usually), helps a person normalize their condition. By normalizing anxiety, you negate it. Or, at a minimum, you accept it as something that just is. Acceptance makes it less important or problematic. From that, you achieve growth.

Resilience and Your Favorite Horror Movie

Would you believe me if I told you the research shows watching true crime and horror as a form of entertainment can build resilience? Unquestionably, that seems as farfetched as Freddy Krueger, but it’s true! Facing your fears and being aware of your emotions helps you learn how to cope with scary situations. By enjoying these hair-raising experiences, you are teaching yourself to navigate something unnerving before facing a real-life problem. You are, in essence, training yourself to deal with certain types of stressful situations. In doing so, your response time and adaptability improve if and when faced with a scary circumstance.

An example is from one of my favorite podcasts, My Favorite Murder. Their tagline is, “Stay sexy, and don’t get murdered.” But buried inside each episode is a lesson of what to do (or not do) should you face a murderous fiend. Some of their advice includes, “Fuck politeness,” “Listen to your gut,” and “Stay out of the forest.” For more on MFM, go here or check for them on your favorite podcast app.

The Dark Triad of Entertainment

Now, I’m not a psychology expert (even though I like to pretend I am through my writing!), but there was an interesting side note in these studies and others that examine our fascination with dark entertainment, and that is what they call the Dark Triad. This triad is a term that refers to the three main negative personality traits: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

True Crime and horror characters usually have one or more of these traits. That gives viewers an up close and personal experience of this darkness from a safe distance. By following along a storyline, we can envision ourselves as the protagonist (or antagonist, if you have your own psychopathy) going through the motions of what one should or shouldn’t do when faced with these characters. We learn vicariously through these situations and trust that if we were ever faced with one of these three dark souls, we could somehow come out on the winning side of things.

What About Those Public Executions?

Okay. So, maybe we have evolved a little bit in that we no longer gather big crowds to watch men get eaten by exotic creatures or block off our Sunday mornings for the weekly town hanging. However, even those things were comprised of a form of ‘safe’ entertainment. Gladiators were a type of escapist drama, hoping the hero could overcome the beast. Executions had to do more with seeing justice being meted out (and it worked as a nice deterrent as well!) Think Law & Order and all the shows that follow similar frameworks. A crime happens, the search for the bad guy ensues, then justice prevails. It gives us a sense of hope. That there is right and wrong, and right or good will prevail.

In the end, entertainment is a form of escapism. And there is nothing like a good story to teach us a valuable lesson. Stay alive, stay safe, and yeah, don’t get murdered!

Keep on the lookout for my book, Conjoined, releasing later this Summer. A psychological thriller tied deeply into what we find entertaining!

© K.T. George 2023 | This post was first seen on


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Entertainment: The Surprising Reasons We Like Scary Stuff
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2 thoughts on “Entertainment: The Surprising Reasons We Like Scary Stuff

  • May 27, 2023 at 2:29 pm

    I love scary stuff, but not gory stuff. There’s something about a good jump scare that gets your heart racing. I am also fascinated by true crime. I want to know what motivates fellow humans to act out so heinously. What drives people to that level? Maybe if I can understand it, I can feel something other than disgust.

  • May 27, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    Why am I still not getting your newsletters, KT? Anyway, this was really interesting. I never thought about the positive points of watching scary stuff before. I just know I like it. Now I have reasons I can defend myself with when someone asks me how I can watch “that stuff.”


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