Can’t wrap your head around the fact that there are people out there who actually like horror films? Or why you love romantic comedies so much but your best friend would vomit at the sight of it? There are a million reasons why one person would love action and a different million reasons why a person would not. People have diverse preferences when it comes to watching movies, which may be the reason why it takes so long for friends and family to choose the perfect movie to watch together. But have you ever wondered why is it that people have such drastic preferences for movies? Here it is all explained!
We all have our preferred choices of movies. Over time, these preferences may change, even on a day-to-day basis. If we are feeling sad and tired today, a comedy movie may sound like the perfect cure. However, on another day, when life gets a little boring, some drama and action might spice things up. So not only do preferences depend on the person, but it also depends on their mood, emotions, and attitudes of the day.
After a long stressful day at work, who doesn’t like to wind down and relax? Comedy movies are a great way for individuals to destress and ease any “suffering” they’ve experienced throughout the day. As the old saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine”. Comedies help manage our moods; when someone is feeling a bit down, a comedy might pick them right up. Hence the simple reason some people choose comedy: they want to feel happy. Obviously what is funny is considered subjective and thus different methods are used to make someone laugh.
Hearing other people laugh can stimulate an individual’s own smile and laughter.
For example, sitcoms are a type of TV show comedy with recurring characters, catchphrases, and running gags. The most important part of these sitcoms is the laugh tracks that are added after jokes and gags played out in scenes. These laugh tracks are a way to increase enjoyment due to social contagion – hearing other people laugh can stimulate an individual’s own smile and laughter. Another example includes movies and shows that use scatological humor. This type of humor tries to make the audience cringe through vulgarity and offensiveness. Scenes may even mention something that “crosses the line” of what society deems acceptable. For some, this type of humor may be too offensive while for others, it makes them laugh.
You’d think when people are sad they’re down for a comedy. However, this is not the case for everyone. Some people are keener on watching dramas. Why? It may be explained through the concept of eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is the idea that people pursue self-growth in order to have a meaningful life. Mournful viewers may seek information in these dramas that may help them work through their negative state, as dramas offer great insights and self-reflection that viewers can apply to their daily life. Self-reflection happens when individuals go through a similar situation with characters, they can apply how characters deal with their situation to themselves. You see characters go through love and break-ups in movies and expect the same in real life. The emotions and conversations that happen in the drama may also be applicable to your situation. We learn by example from the movies we watch. Growing up, movies taught us the norms of society and so much more.
Dramas are also a great way for viewers to live vicariously through the lives of the characters.
Research has shown that ironically enough, experiencing sadness from dramas can lead to enjoyment. However, the findings by researchers mostly pertain towards females, those who frequently watch dramas, and those with a higher degree of empathy. Dramas are also a great way for viewers to live vicariously through the lives of the characters. Certain people may feel like they lack certain aspects of their lives. For example, some people are lonely and long for intimacy. The dramas they watch may fulfill the difficulty these people face in finding intimacy in real life. Moreover, it seems counterintuitive for enjoyment but the power of negativity outweighs positivity in dramas. This is because negative experience in dramas catches the audience’s attention, increases the intensity of emotional involvement, and increases the memorability of the scene.
To be honest, even experts are not really sure why people enjoy thrillers and horror. On an individual level, research demonstrates that people who enjoy horror are those who have lower empathy levels and higher levels of aggression. Research also found that horror is a preferred genre for people who have higher levels of sensation seeking. Thus, those that seek excitement may find such emotions through watching horror movies. Especially when the fear in horror movies is designed using biologically innate fear that humans inherently have. For example, humans are biologically afraid of what can kill us and what can infect us. This is why many thriller and horror films include infectious zombie-like creatures that put the human population in extinction.
People tend to ignore the fright and focus on the intensified emotional feelings caused by horror.
Certain research has tried to explain the reason horror is enjoyed through the excitation transfer theory. When watching a horror movie, we physically feel things: our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration increase. After watching the horror, the physical feelings still linger within our system. Thus anything we do after the movie is associated with the physical feelings of the horror film. This results in positive feelings for the viewer: people tend to ignore the fright and focus on the intensified emotional feelings caused by horror. Thus, viewers recall having a great time, leading them to want to watch more similar films. As counterintuitive and confusing as the theory sounds, it has proven to be true in research.
So you see, movie genre preferences may not be as random and spontaneous as you thought. There are scientific explanations as to why people choose the films they choose. Movies and films engage people in storytelling, and people engage in these stories for vastly different reasons. Storytelling through comedy, drama, horror, and more provides an escape from reality as well as a way to face reality. No one reason can explain the appeal of different movie genres. That is why people spend their whole life studying these reasons in Communication Science. Although much research has been done for movie genres, there is always space for more to be discovered.
Cover: Unsplash/Jakob Owens
Edited by: Yili Char