When Fear is Romantic: The Psychology of Scary Movies

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s talk about the psychology behind horror, and how it relates to romance. 

OkCupid introduced an interesting finding in 2014 that liking scary movies was one of the best predictors of long-term romantic compatibility. This finding was never published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, so we take it with a grain of salt. However, I do want to explore the possible reasons why couples where both partners like scary movies might be more compatible– and perhaps also how watching scary movies together can bring certain couples closer together.

First though– why would anyone like horror movies in the first place? After all, they depict gruesome scenes that our brains have heavily evolved fear and disgust responses to avoid. The answer involves sensation-seeking.

Sensation-seekers are more likely to enjoy, consume, and prefer horror movies. Sensation-seeking is a personality trait that is characterized by “the drive for new, exotic, and intense experiences”, where their strong need to experience physiological arousal extends to fear-inducing experiences which intentionally activate our fight-or-flight response– resulting in a “natural high.”

Sensation-seeking gets some consideration in our matching algorithm to the extent that it is reflected in the HEXACO model of personality. Thus, it’s possible that OkCupid’s findings simply reflect a similarity in this personality trait, and that asking about horror movies measures that effectively. 

These are a lot of assumptions for something so understudied in relationship psychology. One thing we are more certain about, however, is that watching scary movies with your partner can actually deepen your romantic bond.

For one, scary movies are designed to make you fearful, anxious, and nervous. Those who’ve read my previous piece on the misattribution of arousal theory might know where I’m going with this– as evidenced by the Capilano Suspension Bridge Study, the human body is often unable to tell the difference between fearful arousal and sexual arousal. Engaging in a physiologically arousing activity with your partner (...like watching a horror movie) definitely reflects this principle.

The other interesting way that horror movies can bring couples closer is known, adorably, as The Snuggle Theory of Horror

It works by “providing [heterosexual couples] with an opportunity to fulfill their traditional gender roles” which can be personally and socially gratifying for couples who derive pleasure from identifying with conventionally “masculine” (e.g., stoic, fearless) and “feminine” (e.g., sensitive) traits.

Regardless of where you fall on the sensation-seeking spectrum, watching horror movies is a great way to increase attraction by getting your blood pumping with another person. If you’re looking for love this Halloween, grab a cutie and watch a movie. Preferably one that scares you into each other’s arms!