Why Do People Like Scary Movies? A Clinical Psychologist Explains

Horror movies are a safe way to satisfy the “shadow side” of human nature, as part of a psychological defense called “sublimation”—where we find socially acceptable outlets for sides of ourselves that would be taboo if expressed in a raw, unfiltered manner.

This is actually considered a very healthy thing to do: For example, psychoanalysts sometimes speculate that surgeons may sublimate unconscious violent urges through the socially acceptable (and extremely helpful!) process of slicing into people on the surgical table; or that a boxer in the championship ring has found a socially acceptable arena of catharsis for violence. 

Horror movies can do this for us on a much smaller, milder scale: They are a socially acceptable, benign way for us to mentally experiment with our darker sides. These films also offer us the chance to do so in connection with friends and family, which can create calming reassurance that this aspect of ourselves is actually quite “normal” and harmless.

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