Song in the Twilight

Seriously? Horror Films Are Good for Health?

“If you want to improve your resistance to pain, lose weight, and just scream very loudly, take a trip to a cinema near you.” This soundbite from the BBC World Service at the end of sober news reports mainly about the war in Gaza came from a credible source. But it seemed more like something we would see from the Daily Mail. So we went down the rabbit hole to see if there is any serious science behind a spate of news stories telling us that horror films are good for health.

Anticipating Halloween today, why not?

Marketing Ploy or Serious Science?

The bit about losing weight by watching horror films dates back to a 2012 study done for Lovefilm. This was a UK DVD and video streaming business, later acquired by Amazon. Richard Mackenzie and colleagues at the University of Westminster measured heart rate, oxygen consumption, and carbon dioxide output from persons watching ten different horror films. Mackenzie told the Guardian:

“Each of the 10 films tested set pulses racing, sparking an increase in the heart rate of the case studies. As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline. It is this release of fast-acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the basal metabolic rate and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”

No reports of weight loss. No peer-reviewed publication. All we have are news reports that served the purpose of a company promoting horror flicks.

Pain Tolerance?

The claims about pain tolerance also appears to be mostly speculation tied to research on the role of endorphins in stress and fear responses. So, nope, we can find no research to show that better pain tolerance results from watching horror films. The best we can find is a preprint (i.e. not peer-reviewed) article about horror films and anxiety. But it’s purely speculative.

So if you want to believe that horror films are good for your health, feel free. But don’t pretend that science will back you up.

Click here and here for a sampling of clickbait promoting these ideas. For the BBC report, click here and start listening at the 26 minute mark.

Song in the Twilight, painting by Franz Sedlacek / WikiArt

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October 31, 2023