For some, decompressing might look like whipping up a gourmet dinner, slapping on a face mask, or making time for a matcha date with your gal pals. Lady Gaga’s self-care tastes are decidedly more Halloween-appropriate though: In a recent video with Vogue, the mega-pop star revealed that queueing up a spine-chilling horror movie is her definition of unwinding. And, because this preference is decidedly relatable to oh-so-many folks leading up to the spookiest holiday of the year, I decided to ask a couple experts why one might seek comfort in the horrifying.
According to Nancy Irwin, PsyD, a member of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, this movie genre may soothe the viewer for a variety of reasons. One possibility: Seeing bad things play out on screen assures us that we’re not alone. “Otherwise, we feel others’ lives are perfect and bad stuff only happens to us,” says the expert. Second, “deep down, we may feel we are ‘exercising’ this muscle to prepare for if and when the bad stuff does happen to us,” Dr. Irwin explains. She adds that simulating a fight or flight response may be satisfying on some subconscious level, especially for those who have suffered from past traumas.
Lastly, the preference might just come down to your genetic makeup. According to Dr. Irwin, being born with the “thrill seeker gene” biologically predisposes individuals to thrive on the adrenaline. And thus, when the protagonist in the movie inanely follows the murderer into the basement, you just *cannot* look away. Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist, adds that another gene might be a factor as well. “There are people who have a personality trait called ‘Sensation Seeking.’ These are the people who seem to really both enjoy and get some weird form of relaxation from watching scary movies,” he says.
“Horror movies are not in and of themselves ‘bad.’ They serve a purpose for some people, and should be avoided by others, and everything in between.” — Nancy Irwin, PsyD
While we can’t possibly know which psychological factors pertain to Lady Gaga, in particular, consider puzzling over your own mental processes next time you tuck in for a viewing of The Conjuring, The Silence of the Lambs, or your frightening blockbuster of choice. If you’re more into rom-coms than gore, though, Dr. Irwin recommends following your instincts and keeping in mind that they may change over time. For instance, after becoming a parent, you might no longer be able to stomach scene after scene of violence. “Horror movies are not in and of themselves ‘bad.’ They serve a purpose for some people and should be avoided by others, and everything in between,” she concludes. Consider that next time you peer pressure your bestie into a Saw marathon.
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