Horror movies, reviews and more at buried.com
Horror movies, reviews and more at buried.com
Horror movies, reviews and more at buried.com
Horror movies, reviews and more at buried.com
Horror movies, reviews and more at buried.com
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From Horror Movies To Home Poker Nights: Can Science Explain The Kicks We Get From Taking Risks?

There is always a thrill involved when you're getting ready to watch the latest horror movie release, either at home or at the cinema. If the director gets it right, you'll be left frozen in your seat as the plot twists and turns its way towards the inevitably gruesome finale, but is it just excitement at the gory elements that makes these movies so appealing? Or is there something slightly more sophisticated at play that makes the action so engrossing?

Gore and suspense obviously count for a lot. Suspense is one of the reasons why various entertainment outlets exist. Horror is one example, but it's not restricted to Hollywood. Take poker as an example. Why do we enjoy watching live Texas Hold'em poker tournaments unfold? It's partly to do with admiring the skill of the poker players, but it's also to do with the suspense inherent in the action. Will the next poker hand be the deciding one? Will our favourite poker player crumble in the face of extreme tension? Suspense here is key in keeping our attention.

Another similarity that ties horror and other forms of entertainment like this together is risk-taking. Clearly, risk is what excites fans of gambling, whether at the casino table or playing Seven-card Stud or Omaha Hi-Lo at home, and risk is also what tends to drive the characters portrayed in horror movies and TV shows. Whether they are willing participants or not, the main characters in these movies tend to be risk-takers, reacting and behaving in ways that define them and make us interested and emotionally involved with them and their on-screen portrayal.

"Why Did They Do That?"

Part of the fun of watching a horror movie comes in those moments (those inevitable moments) where you scream, either out loud or in your mind: “why did they do that?”. This usually comes at a moment when the character you're rooting for takes a huge risk that seems to have only a negative outcome. For humans, though, there is something buried deep in our own psychology that explains why we love watching these risks unfold.

One of the more interesting analyses of risk-taking can be found if you click here. Research findings have explained the way that our brains process risk, with dopamine (one of the human body's natural highs and a very complex chemical) our reward for risk-taking. The research goes on to outline various day-to-day activities and scenarios that involve some element of risk and some subsequent chance of experiencing a natural high, but to bring this theory to life, let's stick with our example of the tie-in between horror and poker (and we're not just talking about those situations where you're dealt a poor hand in your home poker game of Texas Hold'em!). We can see all of the subtleties we've discussed brought to life vividly by the horror movie incorporating poker themes: Poker Night. Poker Night starts off with the main protagonist using a poker game to learn about risk when it comes to capturing criminals and then having to put these to the test when he himself is captured and has to escape from an evil kidnapper.

Scene from Poker Night
Scene from Poker Night

While the risk element here is about life or death, what is interesting is that it makes us look at how we cope when we are put in a risky situation and have to learn quickly how to keep control and utilize the parts of our brain that will help us to deal with the risk at hand. The movie uses a far safer risk situation, a game of poker, to help present this dilemma, but then merges the two, having the villain force the protagonist to play a deadly game of poker in order to stay alive and save the other captives.

In a similar fashion, one of the most interesting presentations of risk in the movie world comes in the form of the Final Destination movie and the sequels that followed the original. Each film portrays a lead character who experiences a premonition of a risk of death occurring, thus creating the movie's narrative. The characters are then forced to try to escape risky situations with their lives whilst not putting others' fates at risk at the same time.

Of course, the basis for the movies rests on the slightly farfetched ability to have a premonition that a character can then remember with a photographic memory, but there can be little doubt that it is watching the characters take the risks they do that makes these movies such commercial successes.

Why Do We Enjoy It So Much?

We know that when we watch a movie, we are not the people in danger, but this discussion shows that our brains aren't able to differentiate between real and imagined situations enough to not allow us to activate our fight or flight brain response when we watch a horror movie. This is when dopamine kicks in and gives us our shot of pleasure. Indeed, knowing that we are safe or even seeing an unexpected positive occur can help our brains to generate even more dopamine, suggesting that it isn't always a terrible idea to have horror movies end on a more positive note (as far as horror movies can have happy endings!). Perhaps this is why Sixth Sense leaves its characters able to react positively to their final situations, and Sidney in the Scream movies uses her negative experiences to take control of her life.

The Rules of Horror
The Rules of Horror

Humans will always enjoy having their primal instincts tested in a safe way in a safe environment such a game of poker, where all you have to lose is your bet - and so if we can enjoy watching fictional characters take risks while we know we are safe, then the dopamine release can be experienced without the real danger that can accompany it. With the horror movie genre continuing to evolve, and with continued developments in technology like 3D and virtual reality, it is likely that we will continue to see horror experiences that become more and more lifelike, allowing consumers to experience risk in an even more exciting manner and helping us to truly embrace the emotions and reactions that horror can generate so well.

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