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Analyzing Horror Fiction: Psychology of Horror

A guide to critical analysis of both classic and contemporary horror fiction


This section is an introduction to the field of horror psychology. There is ample research on why people are drawn to the horror genre, and how reading or watching horror fiction can impact our brains. 

Why Do We Like Horror?

The Paradox of Horror: Fear as a Positive Emotion

This article examines why people are drawn to the horror genre, despite fear being universally classed as a negative emotion. Through a philosophical examination of the paradox, the author argues that attraction to the genre is hedonistic and distinct from real-life experiences of fear. This article is from the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, a peer-reviewed academic journal funded by the American Society for Aesthetics, and can be accessed with a subscription to JSTOR through Simmons University. It is intended for academic research but the content is accessible to those interested in casual or informal study as it requires little background knowledge.


(Why) Do You Like Scary Movies? A Review of the Empirical Research on Psychological Responses to Horror Films

This free, full-text article from Frontiers in Psychology examines the factors that make one more likely to enjoy the horror genre, such as level of empathy, gender, age, and sensation-seeking behavior. Historical context of public perception of the genre is also discussed. This is not a research study but rather a conglomeration of the research of prominent scholars in the field. Though this article mainly discusses horror films, the concepts are applicable to horror literature. Frontiers in Psychology is the largest journal in its field and all articles are peer-reviewed. This resource can be accessed remotely and is geared towards academic research rather than casual interest due to the length of the article.  


What Happens to Our Brains When We Read Horror Novels?

Transformative Learning through Reading Horror Fiction

This article, available with a subscription to Project Muse through Simmons University, examines how horror fiction can foster “transformative learning,” a process that forces one to question existing perceptions. This is examined through film as well as a close reading of Robert Bloch’s Psycho, demonstrating its potential to upset perceptions of normality. The findings are then compared to the philosophical studies of John Dewey and Michel Foucault. This article was published in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, a highly respected interdisciplinary journal published by the University of Illinois Press. This resource is best suited to academic researchers due to the complex, cross-disciplinary findings.


Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror

This article describes psychological and physiological responses to fear, and provides evidence that responses to horror are biological rather than cultural. It posits that horror fiction has the unique ability to strongly and subconsciously reshape our values. This article was published in Social Research, a journal published by the reputable Johns Hopkins University Press, and is available with a subscription to Business Source Premier through Simmons University. It is long and likely written for researchers, but the tone and vocabulary is accessible to adults with a casual interest in the topic.