The Purpose of Horror

Did you ever wonder why we enjoy reading horror? Why we enjoy being scared through stories and fiction?

Of course fiction entertains. But the real question is why it entertains. Why do we enjoy hearing stories about people that never existed rather than only historical accounts? And why do we enjoy hearing stories at all if reality is far more important?

Evolutionary psychology (the discipline that derives our psychologyfrom developments in our evolutionary history, i.e. the basic assumption is that the things that helped our ancestors survive are still in us today and those that harmed our survival are not anymore) has an interesting solution for the use of fiction and particularly things such as horror:

It is practice. Our mind practices through fiction the events that could happen in the real world. By reading or watching or hearing stories we learn ways of dealing with the issues addressed that the characters have to deal with.

In stories we learn how others – fictional or not – dealt with situations. There can be many issues that we need or at least would like to learn about. It’s about the things that matter in life.

  • Romance? Practice for dealing with your suitor/lover.
  • Hero stories? Practice on how to catch/conquer/save the woman of your
  • Modern day tragedies? Anti heroes? Practice on how to get your career and life in order.
  • Coming of age stories? Take a guess.

And of course there is horror. Horror, practice on how to deal with the unknown, the threatening, the deadly, the stalking, the thing under the bed, the scary stranger. Horror teaches us how to react in situations of dread and terror and fear and threat.

Horror, in that sense, is survival training. Every time you read a piece of horror or watch a horror movie you are internalising lessons such as don’t open that door or don’t go into the woods at night or fucking run.

10 thoughts on “The Purpose of Horror

  1. Nrll

    hello, i am excited to find your blog. im currently on dissertation writing for my bachelor degree. the topic is evolution of horror films, and i would like to talk deeper about the nature of the genre itself. would you mind me asking from your point of view how would you say the nature of the horror genre. and what are the differences between old generations of horror films and the current ones? i appreciate if you can help me, im out of ideas to propose. thank u

    1. ascheller Post author

      Hi Nrll,
      this comes late and I’m not very much of an expert on anything horror, but to respond anyway: For me horror is about anticipation, the unexpected. Many blockbusters mainly go for gore. But any new or old horror – there are probably many variations today, so it’s hard to say one is better than the other.
      Warm wishes,

    1. ascheller Post author

      Probably. But that’s okay. I had fun writing it – if others have fun or take something away from reading it, I’m happy. Be well.


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