The Snuggle Theory of Horror

by on October 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm in Current Affairs, Science | Permalink

From a survey on the psychology of scary stories:

With regard to age, there’s a suggestion that enjoyment rises through childhood, peaks in adolescence and then gradually fades with age. Related to this is the ‘snuggle theory’ – the idea that viewing horror films may be a rite of passage for young people, providing them with an opportunity to fulfil their traditional gender roles. A paper from the late 1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert Mundorf and others found that male undergrads paired with a female partner (unbeknown to them, a research assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as much if she showed distress during the film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said they enjoyed the film more if their male companion appeared calm and unmoved. Moreover, men who were initially considered unattractive were later judged more appealing if they displayed courage during the film viewing. ‘Scary movies and monsters are just the ticket for girls to scream and hold on to a date for dear life and for the date (male or female) to be there to reassure, protect, defend and, if need be, destroy the monster,’ says Fischoff. ‘Both are playing gender roles prescribed by a culture.’

Happy Halloween.

Tom October 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Some handy dating advice in there!

Cliff October 31, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I do not enjoy being scared, but I certainly could sit still stoically while being scared- something to remember for 10 years ago when I was dating!

y81 October 31, 2011 at 1:24 pm

This theory covers amusement parks too, as I recall!

affe October 31, 2011 at 1:42 pm

It was just a matter of time before Zombie Marginal Product Workers appeared…

Steve Fritzinger October 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Then why do we watch scary movies and TV shows at home, alone?

Walking Dead? True Blood?

JWatts October 31, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Alone? My wife likes both. Indeed, I’m pretty sure she likes ‘True Blood’ more than I do. Granted, it does have a little bit of the soap opera feel to it.

NAME REDACTED October 31, 2011 at 9:59 pm

No way! In true blood stuff actually happens.
In Walking Dead, the characters sit around and talk about their feelings, and act stupid.

juan October 31, 2011 at 1:54 pm

This all about signaling – a la Robin Hanson. The girls want to find out which boys are braver. They also want to find out how protective the boy feels towards them.

The best way is to expose yourself and the boy to a real-life, dangerous situation. A much safer way is to expose yourself and the boy to simulated danger — like roller coasters and horror movies.

The girls aren’t conscious of this, of course. They just know how good they feel afterwards – after being scared and having a brave boy with them who acts bravely and tries to protect them.

And like flattery, it’s the type of signal that works even when being faked. Sure the boy is pretending not to be scared, but the fact that he’s willing to endure unpleasant stimuli, while pretending not to be scared, is a good signal.

And, like any good arms race, some boys will learn to fake being brave and protective during simulated danger, while fleeing in the face of real danger. Thus, prodding girls to seek out ever more dangerous stimuli to expose the boys to.

Clearly in the future all first dates will consist of girls demanding boys first sky-dive, then dissect a cadaver, and finally last 3-minutes in a no-holds barred cage-fight while the latest 3D torture porn movie is played in iMax in the background. And the boys have to constantly reassuringly snuggle the girls throughout this. Any crying or flinching by the boys immediately ends the date.

NAME REDACTED October 31, 2011 at 10:01 pm

lol

Roy October 31, 2011 at 11:18 pm

A funny thing when I took Psych at the University of Minnesota in the nineties a student duplicated this experiment with subjects who were informed before hand it still worked. The power of gender roles is awesome. An interesting, though possibly unethical possible experiment would be to test women with young male children, my hypothesis is that it would show the same result, only with gender reversed.

Also in the original research the girl’s didn’t cling to the guys or the guys touch the girls, they just played scared or tough, remember they didn’t meet until the movie.

ad*m October 31, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Are social scientists still pushing that creationist canard “…Both are playing gender roles prescribed by a culture.”
These are not ‘roles’ and they are not prescribed by ‘culture’. Males do what males do, and females do what females do, in humans and great apes, because they evolved that way. Here are some good starts for Mr. Fischoff:

http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep05411427.pdf
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press/2000/MAY/000512.HTM

Sandeep October 31, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Good catch, but why call it creationist? It is, for instance, much more likely to be feminist than creationist. Oh I see, you will only get applause if you blast certain groups of people.

Kay November 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

Feminist, really? Because I’m pretty sure feminists struggle for gender equality, not perpetuating false gender norms- but that’s cute. Let’s definitely keep blaming a movement that gained women the right to vote and put food on their children’s table.

Veridical Driver November 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm

The trouble is that the original goals of feminism went mainstream… thus, feminists have to earn their street cred by declaring that all heterosexual relationships are non-consensual and that math and science is inherently anti-women and other ridiculous things. Feminism jumped the shark.

Justin November 1, 2011 at 1:27 pm

The idea that gender roles are determined by society is a major tenant of feminism. You aren’t a very good feminist, are you?

Creationists would argue that gender roles were baked into the cake by God when he designed people.

Andreas Moser October 31, 2011 at 3:09 pm

These horror films are dangerous for society because they destroy trust between people. Because of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, no one picks up a hitchhiker anymore, even though statistically it is absolutely safe because strangers are actually less dangerous than family members or friends: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/dont-be-afraid-of-the-stranger/

JWatts October 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I don’t think the phrase “statistically it is absolutely safe” really means that much, but on the other hand I do think you have a point that hitchhiking is unfairly demonized.

Jay Neisen November 1, 2011 at 12:26 am

Those DOJ statistics don’t really say anything about the relative levels of danger from strangers relative to friends, relatives, and casual acquaintances- people we allow to interact with us in far more vulnerable circumstances than strangers. Making that argument based on that dataset is akin to saying that one should be less worried seeing a stranger talking to your child in the park, than your father talking to them in your living room- because kiddie fiddlers tend to target close to home. That attacks by strangers still occur at such high rates indicate that we aren’t observant, or well-armed, enough.

doctorpat November 1, 2011 at 1:08 am

More people are killed by bees than nuclear war each year. Therefore …

Veridical Driver November 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm

No one picks up hitchhikers anymore because people do cross-country travel on high-speed interstates.

Nate October 31, 2011 at 4:17 pm

“Both are playing gender roles prescribed by a culture.”

Why ‘prescribed by a culture?’ There could be a biological element, too, I would think.

john malpas October 31, 2011 at 6:33 pm

From recollection – driving a BMW works better for males than the above.

doctorpat November 1, 2011 at 1:10 am

As a BMW driver… no it doesn’t.

Veridical Driver November 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm

A BMW is the car you buy when you can’t afford a Mercedes.

Kitty_T October 31, 2011 at 10:46 pm

While the sheer fun of squealing and clinging to a guy’s arm cannot be denied, I’m not sure about the pleasure of horror fading over time. I for one came to it late and enjoy it more each passing year.

Oh dear. I just remembered an unfortunate date in college, when the guy took me to a horror flick with a strong PPE subtext (Carpenter’s They Live) and I spent the whole thing cackling delightedly. It never before occurred to me why that date didn’t go better.

TGGP October 31, 2011 at 11:54 pm

What does PPE stand for?

doctorpat November 1, 2011 at 1:11 am

Poly Propyl-Ethylene?

IVV November 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

It’s funny when we don’t learn to dissemble in this manner. When my wife and I watch a scary movie, I’m more likely to jump than she is (I’ve got faster reaction times, and she recognizes a simulation for what it is). Then, she laughs at me. Yeah, it would suggest that we’re a bad match.

But then when there’s a real threat, it changes. We were going to tour a house with a realtor, and the owners’ big dog saw us, and ran toward us barking. She instantly squealed and cringed, and I instantly stepped in front of her to face the dog. THAT is when the signals work right.

Right Wing-nut November 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Umm… I don’t think that last example counts as “signaling”. That’s the real deal.

IVV November 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm

That’s the point.

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