The science behind horror films and sexual chemistry on dates

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When it comes to relationships, new research has revealed that watching horror movies at Halloween is likely to leave people in ‘good spirits’. Rachael Lloyd investigates the link between horror and physical attraction on dates. 

I have a confession to make this Halloween – I see dead people. Well, OK not quite. I like to see dead people would be closer to the truth. For the fact is I’m addicted to horror films. I absolutely love a spine-tingling tale full of dark twists, tragic undertones and preferably a convincing ghost or two.

In fact, I recently devoured the whole first season of Haunting of Hill House via Netflix within one deliciously indulgent weekend – on my own, in the dark.  The only thing I regret is that I didn’t have a partner to cuddle up to for this compelling binge.

The science behind horrors

So, am I freakish in my love of scary movies? Apparently not. When it comes to relationships, new research by eharmony reveals that women (12%) are twice as likely as men to feel more attracted to a partner who is ‘protective’ over them while watching a horror film. (That is, assuming they don’t get ghosted for screaming too much.)

This reflects existing psychological theory that the human brain is conditioned to associate fear with other intense feelings such as sexual attraction.

Various scientifically-based experiments over the years have highlighted the link between fear and lust. This includes one rather curious experiment back in 1974 which showed a group of men were more attracted to a beautiful woman after crossing a shaky suspension bridge than a control group.

When it comes to Brits’ favourite spooky films – American slasher Halloween, with its latest instalment in cinemas this month, comes in top, tied with cult classic Jaws. An American Werewolf in London, The Cabin in the Woods and psychological thriller The Shining followed closely behind. [See Table 1 below for top 10.]

Brits also consider themselves horror film aficionados, with many opting for the genre as their top choice for a first date.  Whilst this might seem chillingly irrational, psychologist Emma Kenny says it makes sense.

“When we watch films that make us feel scared, cortisol and adrenaline are released into our system,” she explains. “This mimics the kind of stress we used to feel in prehistoric times when faced with a predator or other threat.

“When the release of this ‘fight or flight’ chemical is followed by the comforting realisation that you are with a partner or someone you’re dating, oxytocin is released. So essentially, what happens is a reinforcement and reward cycle, which can almost be addictive – and keeps you coming back for more!”

Vampires, ghouls and sensuality

The other thing about horror films is that they can be deeply sensual. In Victorian times the likes of Dracula and other vampire tales symbolised a kind of permissible erotica. And let’s be frank, modern vampires are hardly lacking in sex appeal (True Blood, anyone?).

These monsters also represent the human struggle with addiction, with their insatiable thirst for blood like the compulsive eater obsessing about cakes or, more darkly, the drug addict looking to score.

What’s more, horror films make for great psychological debate on a date. For example, Jaws could represent our fears of what lies beneath, the unknown part of our psyche that can take us aware. The Halloween films might reflect our lack of comprehension about the very real serial killers that trigger headlines. The Shining features the tortuous impact of profound mental illness. Meanwhile, The Exorcist is like the that raging part of our ego we keep hidden from the world.

As for my favourite horror – alas, it didn’t make the list. The Sixth Sense had me crying rivers back in 1999, with its searing portrayal of childhood grief and abandonment.

But, whatever your own choice of horror this Halloween, here’s to sharing the experience with someone you love.

Table 1: Top 10 horror films that people would choose to watch with their partner/ on a first date

 

Rank Film Title
=1 Jaws
=1 Halloween
3 An American Werewolf in London
4 The Cabin in the Woods
=5 The Shining
=5 Scream
7 Ring
8 Carrie
9 The Exorcist
10 A Nightmare on Elm Street

 Unless otherwise indicated, omnibus research was conducted by Opinium on behalf of Third City in October 2018, among a nationally representative sample (2,004 UK adults).

 

 


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