Study Finds Horror Movies Prevent Violence, Not Cause It

Hostel Horror Violence debate

So you’re a serial killer and you have your next victim all picked out for next Friday night. Only next Friday is the premiere of the “Halloween” remake and you already have tickets, you’re not going to miss that: another life is saved.

A stretch, right? But that is basically the idea and findings behind a study which says horror movies don’t incite violence, they thwart it.

Economists Gordon Dahl and Stephano Della Vigna decided to put a hypothesis to the test in a 2003 study. They analyzed big release movies over the course of a decade. They found that for every million people who saw a savage film on that day, violent crimes decreased by 1.5 to 2 percent.

That means movies like “Hostel,” “The Purge,” and “It’ managed to potentially foil 1,000 violent crimes over the weekend. not as some people think, inspired people to commit them.

That is in contrast to debates which say horror films are dangerous or “There’s already too much violence in the world.” Truth be told, copycats do exist and get inspired by celluloid violence, but that is rare and that can be explained further down in this article.

Dahl and Vigna also found another surprising fact: these distractions also thwarted crimes involving drugs and alcohol especially among people just over the legal drinking age.

Although these statistics are encouraging, unfortunately, they could only study the short term. Less promising was the long-term because the researchers found “no evidence of medium-run effects up to three weeks after initial exposure” to violent films.

Further bolstering this conclusion was a recent project in Cape Town South Africa by the non-profit organization ideas42. Their study mirrored the same results as Dahl and Vigna’s in a different way.

In the South African study, 156 low-income youth were randomly assigned to a control group or an intervention group. The control group was free to live their lives as normal, but the intervention group was asked to interact with a computer program which suggested weekend activities that were safe and fun.

Some of the offered suggestions were starting a soccer game and things like that. Once they landed on something they liked, the program helped them figure out the details like who to invite, where the venue would be, and so on.

The results showed that those who were active in planning something fun or productive were half as likely to participate in unsafe activities or experience violence over the course of the next weekend. Conversely, the control group was more likely to lean toward unsafe activities.

And here’s another aspect to consider. In 2014, a first-of-its-kind study was conducted between an aggressive and non-aggressive group. Both were shown horror movies. Not surprisingly the people who were classified as non-aggressive felt, anxious and un-nerved, while the aggressive group remained calm and “less upset.” That is until the movie was over. Once it ended the aggressive group’s heart-rate increased and during the non-stimulating portion of the experiment called the  “mind wandering” stage, where nothing was shown, the aggressives had, “unusually high brain activity.”

Dr Nelly Alia-Klein, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said of the results, “How an individual responds to their environment depends on the brain of the beholder.”

In short, if you are already predisposed to think aggressively that may mean a violent film will inspire the same behaviors, but it doesn’t mean that everyone will follow suit, that’s your limbic system–you own it.

We at iHorror do not condone violence, we may enjoy movies which depict it for various reasons, but getting ideas to go out and mimic them just isn’t in our wheelhouse. 

I would even venture to say that we fall into the “distraction” theory defined above because if you’re taking the time to read this, and don’t have tickets to the “Halloween” remake, it’s keeping you from doing other things including destructive ones.

So to that, we say, directors, actors, and writers keep making horror films, you are potential lifesavers, and now we can confidently stand behind you with proof when people want to argue otherwise.