Viral outbreak horror films such as Outbreak – 1995, 28 Days Later – 2002, Contagion – 2011, 12 Monkeys -1995, Resident Evil series are all seeing the most searches since each one was released independently.
But why would we watch these with a real-life threat staring directly at us?
The answer might lay in the Amygdala or the “primal brain” as many psychologists call it. This is the old brain, the subconscious parts of us that in a fear or anxiety scenario helps us survive. There is a concept of instinctual memories that we inherit these fears in order to learn to avoid danger. Why do infants inherently react to snakes even when first seeing them? Why do so many people fear spiders even though they have never had an incident involving spiders? We are simply wired for it based on many years of learning the hard way, which often meant death. Famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung stated that horror films “tapped into primordial archetypes buried deep in our collective subconscious” which is another way of saying that we have these fears already on call, we just don’t have direct access to them in our conscious thinking.
So why watch something that we are already afraid of? If we look at these movies there are several outcomes and even chemical reactions that happen that draw some of us in.
- Cathartic release – The fight instinct says go towards this scary event and beat it. In each of these movies, there is a hero who survives, a hero who “fights” and that appeals to us. It shows us we may be able to survive, even in a zombie apocalypse. That unto itself is a relief!
- Hypervigilance – This is a reaction to trauma and well these are traumatic times for many people. We stand on guard and watching these films can reinforce that behavior, which might feel like we are actively preparing ourselves somehow.
- Exposing ourselves to the “Worst Case Scenario” – We get the opportunity to experience how bad it really could be and maybe that will make what is happening right here today feel less scary.
- Watching horror movies, in general, can also trigger some pretty good chemicals in the brain. In fact, it might even be good for you if you can handle it!
Below is how the movies stacked up state by state. The darker the color the more searches they had for the film.
While we navigate these difficult times some of us will turn directly into the fear while some might find it more traumatizing. We don’t recommend one way or the other as it really comes down to how you handle fear and stress. But it makes sense why so many people want to watch these films while the world continues to prepare for the virus. Stay safe and be well.