October 7, 2019
This is an Open Access article by Francis T. McAndrew (Knox College), from the forthcoming issue of Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Vol. 4.1. ESIC 4.1 will be available in 2020.
Why do some types of settings and some combinations of sensory information induce a sense of dread in humans? This article brings empirical evidence from psychological research to bear on the experience of horror, and explains why the tried-and-true horror devices intuitively employed by writers and filmmakers work so well. Natural selection has favored individuals who gravitated toward environments containing the “right” physical and psychological features and avoided those which posed a threat. Places that contain a bad mix of these features induce unpleasant feelings of dread and fear, and therefore have become important ingredients of the settings for horror fiction and films.