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Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories


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Horror fiction is a thriving industry. Many consumers pay hard-earned money to be scared witless by films, books, and computer games. The well-told horror story can affect even the most obstinate skeptic. How and why does horror fiction work? Why are people so fascinated with monsters? Why do horror stories generally travel well across cultural borders, if all they do is encode salient culturally contingent anxieties, as some horror scholars have claimed? I argue that an evolutionary perspective is useful in explaining the appeal of horror, but also that this perspective cannot stand alone. An exhaustive, vertically integrated theory of horror fiction incorporates the cultural dimension. I make the case for a biocultural approach, one that recognizes evolutionary underpinnings and cultural variation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories
Mathias Clasen
Aarhus University
Horror fiction is a thriving industry. Many consumers pay hard-earned money to be scared witless by
films, books, and computer games. The well-told horror story can affect even the most obstinate skeptic.
How and why does horror fiction work? Why are people so fascinated with monsters? Why do horror
stories generally travel well across cultural borders, if all they do is encode salient culturally contingent
anxieties, as some horror scholars have claimed? I argue that an evolutionary perspective is useful in
explaining the appeal of horror, but also that this perspective cannot stand alone. An exhaustive,
vertically integrated theory of horror fiction incorporates the cultural dimension. I make the case for a
biocultural approach, one that recognizes evolutionary underpinnings and cultural variation.
Keywords: horror fiction, monsters, fear, biocultural analysis, evolutionary psychology
Our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in
the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by
horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark
theaters. (Shepard, 1996, p. 29)
The popularity of horror fiction is puzzling. Why would anyone
willingly expose himself or herself to such aversive, outlandish
nonsense; what is the appeal of supernatural monsters and moan-
ing ghosts? I argue that a biocultural approach, one that integrates
research into evolved psychology with attention to sociohistorical
circumstance, is uniquely equipped to answer these questions. By
taking into account evolved cognitive architecture, a biocultural
approach offsets the tendency toward cultural determinism inher-
ent in the widespread socioconstructivist approach to horror (e.g.,
Kendrick, 1992; Skal, 2001). Human cognition has been fine-tuned
by natural selection to deal with dangers in the environment, and
horror fiction depends crucially on this mental machinery.
Horror fiction is a multimillion-dollar industry. For the past
decade and a half, horror films have enjoyed a market share of
about 5% (not counting the closely related, sometimes overlapping
genres of thriller and suspense films; The Numbers—Top-
Grossing Genres, 2011). The horror film Paranormal Activity
(2007), produced for a measly $15,000, has grossed close to
$200,000,000 worldwide (Paranormal Activity, 2011), despite its
thin storyline and dubious premise of an angry demon from Hell.
In literature, Stephen King and his fellow horror mongers continue
to thrill audiences around the planet with stories of the grotesque
and macabre. Video games manifestly designed to maximally
spook players, such as Silent Hill, are a thriving enterprise.
The fact of the matter is that creepy stories of ghosts, monsters,
crazed killers, and otherworldly hauntings continue to draw flocks
of thrill-seekers to the comfortable half-darkness of cinemas and
the shelves labeled “horror” in bookstores and libraries worldwide.
The well-told horror story can send a shudder down the spine of
even the most obstinate rationalist. Why is it that educated, en-
lightened persons are susceptible to being frightened by fictional
tales about supernatural monsters, and why are many people at-
tracted to such stories? Why does commercial horror fiction travel
so well across cultural borders? Apparently, even the glare of
scientific progress and general enlightenment are insufficient to
kill off the supernatural menaces that stalk us in the stories we
Something about vampires, zombies, ghosts, werewolves, and
chainsaw-wielding maniacs makes them uniquely interesting to
many people. But the ubiquity of such monsters in fiction certainly
cannot be a reflection of reality—let alone the reality of 21st
century citizens in industrial countries. The likelihood of being
assaulted by a homicidal maniac in a hockey mask is only mar-
ginally greater than the likelihood of being assaulted by a thirsty
vampire or a hungry zombie. I argue that horror stories do not
reflect empirical reality but rather the psychology of our species.
The sustained generation and consumption of horror fiction over
space and time suggest that a species-typical cognitive architecture
for dealing with danger is brought into play by such stories. In this
article, I provide a brief sketch of cognitive architecture designed
for danger management and analyze the correspondence between
this mental machinery and the structure of horror fiction and horror
Natural-Born Scaredy-Pants
Before we turn to the current profusion of monsters in popular
entertainment, we need to take a look at our past. The Homo line
diverged from that of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and
bonobos, about 5 to 7 million years ago, and a long process of
natural selection further whittled away at our species and gave rise
I am immensely indebted to Joe Carroll for his eagle-eyed editorial
assistance and unstinting support. I also would like to warmly thank Daniel
Sznycer for giving feedback on a draft of this article; my colleagues at
Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Studies, Aarhus University, for valuable
discussions and support; and Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, and the other
good people at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, University of
California, Santa Barbara, for providing a stimulating writing environment.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mathias
Clasen, Department of English, Aarhus University, DK-8000 Aarhus C,
Denmark. E-mail:
Review of General Psychology © 2012 American Psychological Association
2012, Vol. 16, No. 2, 222–229 1089-2680/12/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0027918
to anatomically modern humans some 200,000 years ago (Wade,
2007). It means that we all have human nature in common, that is,
a set of genetically transmitted traits and dispositions common to
all members of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. All organisms
evolve in an adaptive relationship with their environments. Organ-
isms that are better suited to their physical, ecological, or social
environments leave more offspring, increasing their genetic rep-
resentation in future generations. All living humans are thus de-
scended from a very long line of well-adapted organisms, none of
whom failed at the exacting tasks of surviving and reproducing.
Coping with dangers is a major challenge in the evolutionary
process. Today, as in our prehistorical evolutionary past, human
beings are born into the world with a suite of adaptations designed
for managing a wide array of dangers.
Imagine this. You are alone, at night, walking in the woods.
From somewhere, suddenly, come a sound, a rustling, and some-
thing that sounds like growling. These auditory cues, perhaps
implying lethal danger from a predator, generate in you a precau-
tionary neurophysiological reaction. Attention is sharply focused
on the potential threat, all thoughts of the upcoming Sex and the
City marathon or soccer match forgotten. Your pulse climbs, you
start sweating, your mouth dries out, energy is directed to the big
muscles and away from the digestive system: These various re-
sponses are jointly mobilized by the emotion of fear (Tooby &
Cosmides, 2000). Your body prepares for confrontation or flight,
pending further evidence. It could be a false alarm, but given that
reacting to a false alarm is vastly less catastrophic than failing to
react to a lethal threat, responding with a heightened state of
emergency is a safe bargain and hence the baseline response
(Marks & Nesse, 1994).
Now imagine this. You are alone, at night, watching a Japanese
horror movie on cable. From somewhere, suddenly, comes a little
pale girl with long black hair. Similar physiological changes take
place in your body, even though there is no physical danger. But
we scare easily—jumping at shadows is simply the safer bargain—
and even virtual danger scenarios such as horror fiction capitalize
on this tendency.
Psychological Adaptations to Danger
Like all other animals, humans are equipped with evolved
machinery that enables them to deal with possible dangers to their
survival, and emotions are crucial parts of the machinery. In
humans, fear is mediated by highly conserved, ancient circuits in
the brain. In fact, humans and rats respond to sudden danger
in much the same way (LeDoux, 1996, pp. 130–131). Emotions
are functional systems that guide behavior, deeply embedded in
mammalian brains (and perhaps other classes of animals as well).
Fear and anxiety are adaptations to dangerous environments. They
help us stay clear of things that could be harmful to us.
Life in ancestral environments was dangerous. We know from
the archeological record that humans and our hominid ancestors
were frequently prey to other animals and also to fellow humans.
So, for example, we find skulls of hominins with puncture marks
that match perfectly the teeth of large feline predators (Hart &
Sussman, 2008). The vast majority of our species’ evolutionary
history was spent living in small bands of hunter–gatherer societ-
ies, and we know from anthropological studies of modern-day
hunter–gatherer societies that such existence is dangerous. Among
Ache´ foragers in Paraguay, 6% of all deaths are the result of
poisonous snakebites, making this the single most common lethal
accident. Among adult males, snakebites account for 14% of all
deaths, and jaguar attacks for another 8%. Death by the hands of
other humans is even higher than deaths due to animal predation:
External warfare accounts for 36% of deaths among adult males.
Violence generally is responsible for 55% of all Ache´ deaths (Hill
& Furtado, 1996, pp. 162–163).
We would expect this kind of precarious existence to have left
deep grooves in human nature. And indeed, experimental psychol-
ogists have provided a wealth of evidence for the kind of dedicated
threat-detection and handling system that this selective regime
would shape. Humans’ attention is preferentially engaged by evo-
lutionarily recurrent, fear-relevant stimuli. So, for example, test
subjects are faster at detecting an image of a snake among a mass
of flowers than they are at detecting a flower among a mass of
snakes (Öhman, Flykt, & Esteves, 2001), the hypothesis being that
the danger from poisonous snakebites exerts a selection pressure
for fast detection of serpents. Summing up previous research, Arne
Öhman (2000) wrote that
responses of fear and anxiety originate in an alarm system shaped by
evolution to protect creatures from impending danger. This system is
biased to discover threat, and it results in a sympathetically dominated
response as a support of potential flight or fight. (p. 587)
The fear response is controlled by the autonomic nervous system
and so is largely impervious to higher order cognitive control, and
the system is biased, that is, hyper-responsive and prone to erring
on the side of caution. Thus, Öhman and Mineka (2001) posit a
dedicated fear module that directs attention toward potential
threats, causes appropriate emotional states, and produces behav-
ioral outputs that are, on average and statistically speaking, adap-
tive (see also Boyer & Bergstrom, 2011; Boyer & Lie´nard, 2006;
Eilam, Izhar, & Mort, 2011; Lie´nard, 2011; Neuberg, Kenrick, &
Schaller, 2011; and Woody & Szechtman, 2011). Humans, like
other animals, are born with preprogrammed instructions for what
kind of dangers might exist in the world, and experience (first-
hand or vicarious) fills in the picture. Being born with an abstract
predator template—for example, a template specifying large ani-
mals with sharp teeth and forward-facing eyes—and an instruction
to pay attention to such predators gets the job done (H. C. Barrett,
2005). Evolved danger-management systems require calibration, a
useful design feature because different biotopes offer somewhat
different threats. In one environment, it may be useful to be on the
lookout for wolves; in another, crocodiles; in yet another, moun-
tain lions.
This substrate of genetically prepared learning gives a “nonran-
dom distribution of fears” (Marks & Nesse, 1994, p. 255). It is
vastly easier to acquire fear of spiders or large animals than to
acquire fear of saturated fats or cars, despite the fact that cardio-
vascular disease and automotive accidents are more likely to kill us
by several orders of magnitude. This distribution is reflected in
horror stories that feature fearsome monsters. Modern-day horror
stories, by flinging us into virtual universes that brim with lurking
dangers and aggressive predators, send us on a journey backward
in time, to the dark days in human phylogeny when the setting sun
signified grave danger and real monsters could very well be
gathering just outside the fragile circle of light cast by the bonfire.
Horror Stories Trigger Evolved Danger-Management
All normally developed humans are equipped with cognitive
machinery dedicated to threat detection and handling, machinery
that has been assembled and fine-tuned incrementally by a long
process of natural selection. We have evidence to suggest that
horror fiction runs on the same machinery. For example, research-
ers studying emotion have found horror films very effective for
ecologically valid emotion elicitation in laboratory experiments on
fear. In particular, researchers have found clips from The Shining
(1980) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) useful as fear-eliciting
stimuli (Gross & Levenson, 1995; Rottenberg, Ray, & Gross,
2007). We can draw two conclusions from this research: Horror
movies cause predictable, reliable emotional states across subjects
(people do not interpret what they watch arbitrarily), and horror
films engender actual emotions of fear and anxiety, not simulacra
or perversions of these emotions.
Evidence is also forthcoming from an intriguing study of a
woman with neurological impairment (Feinstein, Adolphs, Dama-
sio, & Tranel, 2011a). This patient, famous in neurological liter-
ature as SM, suffers from focal bilateral amygdala lesions. She is,
in other words, fearless because of localized brain damage. In a
recent experiment, a team of researchers subjected the woman to a
variety of fear-inducing situations. They took her to a pet shop and
exposed her to snakes and tarantulas, they dragged her on a tour of
a haunted house, and they had her watch clips from a number of
well-known horror films. In the pet store, SM was “spontaneously
drawn to the snake terrariums.” She asked repeatedly if she could
touch or hold even large, dangerous snakes, and “also attempted to
touch a tarantula, but had to be stopped because of the high risk of
being bitten” (Feinstein et al., 2011a, pp. 34–35). When they
visited Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a commercially run “haunted
attraction” in Kentucky, SM showed no fear but reported “a high
level of excitement and enthusiasm” (p. 35):
The hidden monsters attempted to scare SM numerous times, but to no
avail. She reacted to the monsters by smiling, laughing, or trying to
talk to them. In contrast, their scare tactics typically elicited loud
screams of fright from the other members of the group. More than
showing a lack of fear, SM exhibited an unusual inclination to
approach and touch the monsters. Ironically, SM scared one of the
monsters when she poked it in the head because she was “curious” as
to what it would feel like. (Feinstein et al., 2011a, p. 35)
The team exposed SM to clips of varying length from a number
of horror films, including The Ring (2002), The Shining (1980),
The Blair Witch Project (1999), Halloween (1978), Silence of the
Lambs (1991), and Se7en (1995; Feinstein, Adolphs, Damasio, &
Tranel, 2011b, p. 9), all of which induced high levels of fear in
healthy control subjects. As the authors note,
SM exhibited no fear responses and reported experiencing little to no
fear across the entire battery of fear-inducing films. Nonetheless, she
found the fear films to be exciting and entertaining, and in one case,
she inquired about the name of the movie so she could rent it from the
video store later that day. (Feinstein et al., 2011a, p. 35)
It is striking that patient SM not only lacked fear but also
displayed high interest in fearful situations and objects. As the
research team argued, “fear-inducing stimuli are still capable of
eliciting changes in attention and arousal through structures other
than the amygdala” (Feinstein et al., 2011a, p. 37). Horror mon-
sters are not only terrifying, they are captivating.
Monsters Real and Imagined
“What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same
things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre,” according to
veteran horror filmmaker John Carpenter (as cited in McCarty &
McLaughlin, 2006). His observation has the ring of common
sense, and is in fact borne out by research on the topic. People do
tend to fear similar things simply because we are similarly con-
structed. A long process of evolution gave us minds that are on the
lookout for certain kinds of dangers in the environment, dangers
that are sometimes hopelessly atavistic. The same process gave us
endlessly creative imaginations, and these two capacities together
give rise to a multitude of fictional monsters.
The primary function of a fictional monster is to be salient. It
can fulfill that function by being dangerous because humans are
hard-wired to pay attention to dangerous agents, but the monster
becomes even more interesting by being unnatural. Cognitive
research on religion has produced evidence that counterintuitive
agents, particularly minimally counterintuitive agents such as
ghosts and bleeding statues, are more salient, easier to remember,
and more likely to be faithfully transmitted than ordinary or
completely bizarre agents (Boyer, 2001; J. L. Barrett, 2004;
Norenzayan, Atran, Faulkner, & Schaller, 2006; see Grodal, 2009,
on the application of this finding to supernatural film).
Indeed, monsters appear in stories, myths, and artwork all over
the world. As David Gilmore (2003) has documented through
extensive anthropological research, “people everywhere and at all
times have been haunted by ogres, cannibal giants, metamorphs,
werewolves, vampires, and so on” (p. ix). Likewise, according to
Stephen Asma (2009), the “monster archetype seems to appear in
every culture’s artwork” (p. 282). Psychology goes a long way
toward explaining our fascination with made-up monsters and the
underlying structure of monsters as unnatural dangerous agents.
Horror monsters are usually supercharged predators with counter-
intuitive traits, well designed to capture and hold our attention.
They are tailored to have a specific effect on the human mind, and
the reason they succeed is that there are regularities in human
cognitive architecture that make sense only in the light of our
evolutionary history. Nonetheless, a cultural component is neces-
sary to understand particular monsters and the historical develop-
ment of the horror genre.
Cultural Ecologies of Monsters
Like all other imaginative constructs, monsters come into being
in a complex relation between psychological machinery, environ-
mental conditions, and cultural narratives: They grow in the soil of
adapted minds and are fertilized by cultural ecology. Four exam-
ples will help clarify this principle: werewolves, zombies, vam-
pires, and ghosts.
The Werewolf
Although the global entertainment industry has transmitted
werewolves to the farthest corners of the planet, the creature began
life as a tweaked version of a local predatory animal, the wolf.
Asma (2009) noted, “in the imaginative construction of a fright-
ening beast, a folk culture will frequently embellish the local
predators rather than compose a completely novel monster” (p.
126). Thus, we find different shape-shifters in different ecologies:
a were-tiger in India and other Asian regions, a were-bear in North
America, a were-leopard in Africa, a were-boar in Greece and
Turkey, a were-crocodile in Indonesia and Africa, and so on (Rose,
2000, pp. 389–390).
Different as these shape-shifters are on the surface, they are
products of the same universal psychological processes producing
output with local environmental and cultural inputs. Psychological
adaptations that make humans interested in dangerous organisms,
as well as mechanisms that make counterintuitive agents particu-
larly salient to humans, coupled with a knowledge or impression of
local predators and a memory bank of monster stories, work
together to elaborate on the culturally transmitted idea of a shape-
shifter and to make the were-animal a successful cultural figure.
The various ethnic were-animals are variations on a basic theme,
constrained by human cognition, and the very idea of a were-
animal is a spectacular embodiment of the commonsensical obser-
vation that human nature is fraught with conflicting forces, some
of them dark and bestial. The werewolf is efficient both as a
metaphor for the “beast within man” and as a literal, tweaked
predator reminiscent of the kind of monsters that stalked our
The Zombie
The zombie packs a double whammy in its dual assault as a
physically dangerous agent that is riddled with pathogens. It wants
to eat you, and it is extremely infectious. Furthermore, the zombie
is a counterintuitive and thus salient idea: It is a reanimated human
corpse and a “person” without a mind, or at least with severely
impaired cognitive functioning (and thus the opposite of a ghost, a
mind without a body). From about 1925, the representation of
zombies in English-language books increased by more than 500%,
and by 2000 it had increased by 3,250% (see Figure 1). The most
important turning point was George A. Romero’s film Night of the
Living Dead (1968), a disturbing and commercially successful film
that pushed the stumbling zombie into the spotlight of mass
Why did the zombie become so popular so quickly and in this
particular era? Some commentators have isolated cultural anxieties
that zombies are somehow supposed to engage with or symbolize.
For example, David J. Skal (2001) reads Dawn of the Dead (1978)
as a “razor-edged social satire: [it] peopled a shopping mall with
flesh-eating zombies, an indelible image of consumerism gone
mad” (p. 309). Night of the Living Dead has been interpreted as an
imaginative transfiguration of cold war anxiety (Pulliam, 2007).
Stephen King (2010) sees the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead
as a trigger of post-9/11 terrorism anxiety. There is some truth to
this widespread constructivist approach, but it is not sufficient to
explain why the zombie became a popular horror monster. The
constructivist perspective is too narrow in its exclusion of biology
and evolved cognition. In the case of zombies, these horror mon-
sters do gain much of their power and salience as metaphors for
sociocultural anxieties, but this power works in tandem with (and
secondarily to) the literal, predatory, and disease-salient presence
of zombies (Clasen, 2010a). The zombie was gradually introduced
into pop culture during the 20th century and rose swiftly in
popularity and visibility following the commercial success of
Romero’s groundbreaking film (Pulliam, 2007). It could never
have achieved this level of cultural success if it had not connected
squarely with adaptive dispositions to fear lethal attack and infec-
tious agents.
The Vampire
The vampire is an ancient figure found in cultures throughout
the world (Carter, 2007). It is enjoying an immense boom in
popular culture today (see Figure 1). A vampire is a reanimated
Figure 1. Ngram (Michel et al., 2010). The corpus “English” (containing digitized versions of millions of
English-language books) has been searched for occurrences of the terms vampire,zombie, and werewolf to give
a rough estimate of the relative popularity of these monsters. At the millennium, the vampire leads vastly, with
the zombie a distant second and the werewolf an honorable third.
corpse whose sole sustenance is the blood of living humans. The
vampire has changed and multiplied enormously over the past 300
years, so that today’s teen idol vampires from such stories as L. J.
Smith’s The Vampire Diaries series and Stephenie Meyer’s Twi-
light saga are barely recognizable as descendants of the nocturnal
revenants that preyed on rural Eastern European populations in the
18th century (Vanderbeke, 2010). Metaphorically speaking, we
have a vampire genotype that is expressed as different phenotypes
in different ecologies and modified by cultural selection over time.
Different vampire phenotypes require different explanations.
Drawing on archeology, forensic pathology, folklore, and history,
Paul Barber (1988) convincingly argues that vampires in the early
18th century were really a product of a prescientific misunder-
standing of biochemical processes. Because nobody had come up
with a germ theory of disease, disease was understood in terms of
agency, often intentional intervention by supernatural agents, not
in terms of invisible microorganisms. (Similarly, the werewolf
may have served as an explanation for pathological outbreaks of
homicidal violence in the dark ages before professional psychiatry
and the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders.) Some modern authors have moved the vampire
figure from the uncanny world of demonic forces and supernatural
causation to a naturalistic universe of communicable disease, for
example, Richard Matheson in his 1954 novel I Am Legend (Cla-
sen, 2010b), thus mirroring the cumulative success of natural
science as an explanatory system; Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing
studies forgotten books of the occult; Matheson’s Robert Neville
looks at vampire cells in his microscope. The kind of hypersexu-
alized vampires that have recently become popular arguably reflect
human female mating strategies, rather than evolutionarily recur-
rent threats embodied in predatory monsters: These slightly dan-
gerous, highly attractive, and pathologically devoted male vam-
pires seem to condense “cads” and “dads” into one (see Johnson,
2011, on Twilight). Such stories are predominantly about mate
choice rather than escaping a dangerous predator. Mate prefer-
ences rest on a universal, biological substrate, but they are mod-
ulated by cultural norms. It is obviously important to understand
the kind of culture that gives rise to for example Stephenie Mey-
er’s odes to unbridled materialism, impossibly attractive people,
and idealized romantic love, which could not have arisen in the
culture of Eastern Europe in the 18th century. They are at home in
contemporary America.
Vampires can be powerful, potent metaphors, but first and
foremost they are salient, counterintuitive, usually dangerous mon-
sters, and their ubiquity in popular culture reflects our species’
preoccupation with dangerous agents in the environment.
The Ghost
The ghost is, basically, a disembodied mind, a counterintuitive
agent that commands attention and historically has been useful for
explaining odd events (missing objects, the impregnation of Mary
in the absence of mortal male gametes, the sound you hear from
the kitchen just before you fall asleep). Changing theological
attitudes and scientific accomplishments alter the significance of
ghosts (Finucane, 1984). Nonetheless, all ghosts spring from the
same cognitive tendencies: overattributing agency to inexplicable
events and an intuitive dualism, that is, our innate tendency to view
humans as consisting of material as well as spiritual selves
(“souls”; Bloom, 2004; Boyer, 2001). Supposing that a person’s
immaterial spirit persists after the body dies requires no great leap
of faith.
To understand a specific ghost story, we need to understand both
the mental machinery that produces and entertains ghosts and the
cultural context in which the ghost floats around. For example,
the way that Henry James describes his ghosts in The Turn of the
Screw (1898) is heavily influenced by late-Victorian “psychical”
discourse about spirits and hauntings and also by contemporary
“spectral” technologies such as photography and x-rays (Grove,
1997). James’s ghosts threaten with an unspecified moral debase-
ment that must be understood in relation to Victorian mores and
norms of propriety. Nonetheless, James’s story can still send a
shiver down the spine of a reader far removed from fin de sie`cle
In the 1979 horror film The Amityville Horror, the evil spirits
are significant in terms of financial, rather than spiritual, ruin. A
family moves into a haunted house, which is soon being ripped
apart by ghosts. The film came out in the wake of the economic
recession of the mid-1970s, and as Stephen King (1983) recollects,
“I found myself wondering not if [the protagonists] would get out
alive but if they had adequate homeowner’s insurance” (p. 143).
King’s observation rings true. The film probably tapped into
widespread economic anxiety and used ghosts as a metaphor for
the sort of apparently impenetrable, malicious, and ultimately
unreasonable forces that can ruin you financially. Nonetheless, the
ghosts are more than metaphors: They are plain creepy in their
literal reality-violating, vengeful aspect. Moreover, the fear of
financial ruin is obviously dependent on local socioeconomic
parameters and was particularly salient in this age of recession, but
it rests on a biological substrate. Insofar as material resources are a
proximate means to achieve the ultimate goal of reproductive
success (Cronk, 1991), it should come as no surprise that people
generally attempt to avoid going broke. Moreover, although the
culturally contingent subtext of The Amityville Horror gave it an
edge to contemporary viewers, it can still frighten audiences that
are not particularly concerned with impending bankruptcy. That is
because malicious, dangerous ghosts are frightening cross-
culturally, to Stone Age cave dwellers and the citizens of modern
nation-states alike.
Monsters vary, but not endlessly and not arbitrarily. They are
variations on evolutionarily constrained themes. Different ecolo-
gies provide different configurations of imaginative spaces in
which monsters grow. These ecologies, whether broadly cultural
or psychologically individual, are in turn circumscribed by human
nature. This is something that the successful horror writer, director,
or programmer intuitively knows: He or she is like a locksmith,
forging a monstrous key that fits in the cognitive lock of an
organism that is shaped by universal nature and further calibrated
by local culture.
Functions of Fictional Fear
Horror fiction capitalizes on cognitive and physiological ma-
chinery that is a product of natural selection. Some horror fictions
rely on powerful fear or even terror responses (and few horror film
directors are loath to throw in a startling scare or two), and others
are more dependent on low-key anxiety-provoking storylines and
monsters. Common to the outright horrifying and the more subtly
disturbing horror stories is that they evoke strong emotion and
have us raptly probing the fictional landscape for danger.
If horror stories by “artificially” activating adaptations for dan-
ger management invoke negative emotion in their audiences, why
do some people actively seek out such experiences? We know that
certain demographic populations are more likely than others to
find horror stories attractive, particularly as pertains to horror
films. Adolescent males top the list (Hoffner & Levine, 2005;
Weaver & Tamborini, 1996). Many horror films feature disgusting
contents (decaying monsters, bodily mutilations, and so on). Fe-
males have been shown to be higher in disgust sensitivity than
males, probably as a defensive function of immunosuppression
during parts of the reproductive cycle (Lie´nard, 2011, pp. 1069
1070). Women might thus be less likely to enjoy the more disgust-
dependent horror films, like some slasher films and works in the
“gorenography” subgenre. Research has shown that sensation-
seeking personality traits are correlated with a preference for
horror films (reviewed in Hoffner & Levine, 2005), and adolescent
males display the highest tendency to engage in dangerous or
quasi-dangerous behavior (Arnett, 1996). Pierre Lie´nard (2011)
notes that males are more likely “to be in intense competition with
same-sex conspecifics” and to form coalitions and strong male–
male bonds, particularly in adolescence and young adulthood (p.
1071). Perhaps horror films provide a stage for almost ritualistic
male–male challenges: Like rites of passage, horror films may
serve as a kind of intragroup challenge and also reinforce group
bonds. The affirmation of such bonds may be what the ordeal of
sitting through a horror film produces: not just “I made it,” but
“We made it—together.”
One study found that respondents reported enjoying a horror
film more if an opposite sex coviewer reacts in a “gender-
appropriate” way (i.e., fearlessness or mastery of fear for boys,
fearfulness or distress for girls). In this study, subjects were
exposed to a clip from Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982). Male
respondents in the company of visibly distressed females claimed
to enjoy the clip about twice as much as those in the company of
fearless female peers (Zillmann & Weaver, 1996). Likewise, girls
enjoyed watching a film in the company of a scared boy consid-
erably less than in the company of a fearless one. Moreover,
respondents rated coviewers as more attractive when their coview-
ers reacted gender-appropriately to the clip. Perhaps a misattribu-
tion of arousal partly accounts for this finding (cf. Dutton & Aron,
1974); the arousal elicited by the film clip is misinterpreted as
arousal caused by the coviewer, which then leads to an inflated
attractiveness rating as a result of rationalization and is exacer-
bated when the coviewer reacts in the desired gender-appropriate
way: “Something has gotten me hot under the collar. Maybe it’s
the person screaming/coping admirably next to me. That person
must be very desirable.” This phenomenon has become known as
the snuggle theory of horror: that horror films can provide a setting
for amorous adolescents to react in socially sanctioned, gender-
specific ways and cuddle up in the semidarkness of the cinema.
We need to go deeper than gender roles and socialization
theories to find the appeal of horror. We have already seen how the
human danger-management system is an adaptation that requires
calibration to local environments. The need for calibration is a
solution to the problem that human genes do not “know” exactly
which dangers their host will encounter during its life span, al-
though they will have a pretty good idea. A child growing up in
Sub-Saharan Africa faces certain dangers that are different from
those faced by an Inuit child and so needs to learn about them. The
key, from the viewpoint of natural selection, is to make such
learning pleasurable. Hence, finding pleasure in vicarious learning
about dangerous agents and situations is adaptive.
Steen and Owens (2001) argue that human chase play specifi-
cally is adaptive in that it helps to mature a child’s predator
detection and evasion skills. Natural selection has made play
behavior self-rewarding, simply because play is adaptive: We, and
all other mammalian infants in whom it has been looked for,
exhibit a remarkable tendency to spontaneously engage in play and
exploratory behavior. These apparently nonfunctional behaviors
actually develop skills that are likely to become critically impor-
tant later in life (S
ˇpinka, Newberry, & Bekoff, 2001). If one meets
a hungry predator for the first time, it is desirable to have a store
of surrogate experience with predator evasion to draw from rather
than proceed by trial-and-error. Thus, like pretend play, fiction is
a kind of mental simulation (Oatley, 1999) that gives us surrogate
experience risk-free and at low cost (Carroll, 1999, 2011; Tooby &
Cosmides, 2001). Scary stories about dangerous monsters illustrate
this principle well (Sugiyama, 2006).
The fascination with monsters that many people (especially
children) feel is probably the result of an adaptive tendency to pay
attention to such dangerous agents and to learn about their behav-
ior vicariously, what H. Clark Barrett called the “Jurassic Park
hypothesis” (2005, p. 218). In this view, the modern horror story
is a kind of supernormal stimulus, a hypertrophied variation on
chase play: It is a technology that enlists all manner of monstrous
agents to tap into an adaptive motivational system for learning
about danger and to calibrate our responses to danger. As Kim
Newman (2011) put it, “the central thesis of horror in film and
literature is that the world is a more frightening place than is
generally assumed” (p. 5). Consuming horror fiction could thus be
adaptive. It has all the benefits of learning about danger and one’s
own response to danger, but without the risk of actual harm. One
reviewer (Wong, 2000), looking back at Jaws (1975), noted how in
the wake of this film, a “mundane event like going for a swim at
the beach just wasn’t the same again . . . just like many people
stopped taking showers after seeing Psycho.” To cease showering
is probably not very adaptive, unless one finds alternative means of
personal hygiene, whereas showing a greater degree of vigilance
while bathing in the sea—even if great white sharks very rarely
attack people—could be a sensible strategy.
As Asma (2009) wrote, monsters “probably appear and reappear
in our stories and in our artwork because they help us (and helped
our ancestors) navigate the dangers of our environment” (pp.
283–284). Asma’s functional thesis fits snugly in the biocultural
framework outlined here. Pointing out that the monster is a uni-
versal figure, he plausibly suggests that “stories about monster
threats and heroic conquests provide us with a ritualized, rehears-
able simulation of reality, a virtual way to represent the forces of
nature, the threats from other animals, and the dangers of human
social interaction” (pp. 282–283). Sometimes horror stories can be
traumatic (cf. Cantor & Oliver, 1996), sometimes the pleasure of
watching a horror movie is subordinate or even incidental to the
pleasure of getting together with friends, and sometimes the neg-
ative emotion evoked by a horror story is a nuisance for the reader
interested in other qualities offered by the story. Presumably, some
readers enjoy Stephen King’s descriptions of human interactions
and mental machinations, but wish that he would turn it down a
notch on the scary stuff. At any rate, horror stories are ubiquitous
in popular culture because they are effective at what they do. And
what they do is provide an imaginative space in which thrilling,
uncanny encounters with all manner of monsters can take place. If
ancestral environments had not been dangerous, if we were all
perfectly fearless, we would have no horror stories today: no
bloodsucking vampires, no scary ghosts, no howling werewolves.
Evolution, Cognition, Culture:
An Integrated Approach
There is no good epistemological reason for ignoring evolution
and cognition in the study of culture. Horror fiction is a good
example: Scholars of horror fiction have everything to gain from
adopting a biocultural perspective, one that integrates attention to
historical circumstance with knowledge of human evolutionary
history and evolved cognitive architecture. Such an integrated
approach has the potential of adding analytic richness and boosting
explanatory power in the study of horror fiction. It avoids the
pitfall of unnecessary monocausal reductionism, both in construc-
tivist and evolutionary approaches: An attempt to explain horror
fiction by appealing only to biological hard-wiring is as futile as
appealing only to cultural contingency. Only a fully integrated
biocultural approach is up to the task of making sense of the
monsters that prowl our storyscapes.
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Received February 8, 2012
Revision received February 8, 2012
Accepted February 22, 2012
... Ezt az általános idegrendszeri hátteret aknázza ki a horror és a természetfeletti műfaja, mivel ezek a tartalmak többnyire releváns, valós fenyegetések "koktéljai", egyszerre több különböző félelmet és fóbiát is ötvöznek (Coelho, Zsido, Suttiwan és Clasen, 2021). Például, ha a ma is népszerű vámpíros filmekre gondolunk, ezek a lények ragadozók, karmokkal és fogakkal rendelkezhetnek (állatfóbia), fertőzőek és véresek (VSI), ugyanakkor nehéz lehet megkülönböztetni őket más emberektől (szociális szorongás) (Clasen, 2012). A morbid tartalmak a specifikus fóbiákhoz hasonlóan olyan tartalmakat jelenítenek meg, amelyek halált vagy sérülést okozhatnak. ...
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Háttér és célkitűzések Az erőszakos, kellemetlen vagy halálhoz köthető tartalmak iránti érdeklődés a morbid kíváncsiság mértékével jellemezhető. Az ilyen tartalmak általában félelmet, undort, illetve elkerülő viselkedést váltanak ki, ugyanakkor egyes embereket a kiváltott arousal emelkedés miatt mégis vonzanak. A jelenség részletesebb feltárásával pontosabb képet kaphatunk arról, milyen tényezők játszanak szerepet olyan specifikus fóbiák esetén, ahol mind az undor, mind pedig a félelem releváns érzelmi reakció. A jelen tanulmány célja a Morbid Kíváncsiság Skála pszichometriai elemzése egy megfelelően nagy és az életkor szempontjából diverz magyar anyanyelvű mintán. Módszer A kutatás során összesen 592 fő (442 nő, 150 férfi) töltötte ki a kérdőívcsomagot. A kitöltők átlagéletkora 34,2 év (SD: 10,64; terjedelem: 18–73 év). A Morbid Kíváncsiság Skála mellett a résztvevők a Szenzoros Élménykereséses Skálát és az Undorérzékenység Skálát töltötték ki. A Morbid Kíváncsiság Skála pszichometriai mutatóit klasszikus és modern tesztelméleti eljárásokkal is ellenőriztük. Eredmények A Morbid Kíváncsiság Skála megfelelő pszichometriai mutatókkal rendelkezik a vizsgált magyar mintán. A kérdőív tételei megfelelően diszkriminálnak a látens változó különböző szintjeivel rendelkező kitöltők között, és a kérdőív megbízhatóan mér az átlaghoz viszonyított kétszeres szórástartományban. A kérdőív összpontszáma és alskáláinak pontszámai pozitív irányú összefüggést mutattak a szenzoros élménykereséssel, míg az összpontszám, az Erőszak és a Test megsértése alksálák pedig az undorérzékenységgel mutattak negatív irányú kapcsolatot. Következtetések Mindent összevetve eredményeink alapján a Morbid Kíváncsiság Skála magyar mintán is megbízható és érvényes kérdőív. A kérdőív releváns eszköz lehet kellemetlen vagy undorító tartalmakhoz való viszonyulás mérésére, a megközelítő-elkerülő viselkedéses rendszer vizsgálatára; mind kutatások, mind pedig terápiák során utánkövetésre.
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Imaginary worlds are present and often central in many of the most culturally successful modern narrative fictions, be it in novels (e.g., Harry Potter ), movies (e.g., Star Wars ), video games (e.g., The Legend of Zelda ), graphic novels (e.g., One Piece ) and TV series (e.g., Game of Thrones ). We propose that imaginary worlds are popular because they activate exploratory preferences that evolved to help us navigate the real world and find new fitness-relevant information. Therefore, we hypothesize that the attraction to imaginary worlds is intrinsically linked to the desire to explore novel environments and that both are influenced by the same underlying factors. Notably, the inter-individual and cross-cultural variability of the preference for imaginary worlds should follow the inter-individual and cross-cultural variability of exploratory preferences (with the personality trait Openness-to-experience, age, sex, and ecological conditions). We test these predictions with both experimental and computational methods. For experimental tests, we run a pre-registered online experiment about movie preferences (N = 230). For computational tests, we leverage two large cultural datasets, namely the Internet Movie Database (N = 9424 movies) and the Movie Personality Dataset (N = 3.5 million participants), and use machine-learning algorithms (i.e., random forest and topic modeling). In all, consistent with how the human preference for spatial exploration adaptively varies, we provide empirical evidence that imaginary worlds appeal more to more explorative people, people higher in Openness-to-experience, younger individuals, males, and individuals living in more affluent environments. We discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of the cultural evolution of narrative fiction and, more broadly, the evolution of human exploratory preferences.
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The paper is devoted to analysing the collection “The Icarus Gland” (2010) by Anna Starobinets. The research was undertaken in order to identify the elements of horror in the prose writer’s short stories. First, the author of the paper summarises the opinions of researchers about the genre features of the phenomenon under consideration, then analyses the specifics of the existence of horror motifs and horror images in the texts of the Russian writer, comparing her plot collisions with literary and cinematic plots of Western predecessors. The research is novel in that it is the first to consider the plots of the short stories by A. Starobinets through the lens of foreign horror culture. As a result, it has been proved that the writer, taking into account the peculiarities of the canonical pieces of horror literature (the works of I. Levin, S. King, C. Barker), rethinks the nature of the emotion that the genre in question causes: Starobinets is not focused on fear of death, but on fear of reality, the phenomena of which are often inevitable (poverty, loneliness, loss of self etc.). The prose writer, using horror images and horror motifs popular in mass culture, hyperbolises everyday situations and brings them to the point of absurdity.
... There is a profound interaction between fear and mental imagery. Even at a young age, a child may become afraid of a non-existent monster, and adults may imagine that their thoughts or prayers are associated with acts of nature, such as thunder and lightning, or some otherwise uncontrollable life-or-death outcome (Clasen, 2012;Muris et al., 2003;Singh, 2017). Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also associated with fear-related symptoms, elicited by mental imagery such as intrusive memories and flashbacks Shin & Liberzon, 2010). ...
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Mental imagery is involved in both the expression and treatment of fear-related disorders such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the neural correlates associated with the acquisition and generalization of differential fear conditioning to imagined conditioned stimuli are relatively unknown. In this study, healthy human participants (n=27) acquired differential fear conditioning to imagined conditioned stimuli paired with a physical unconditioned stimulus (i.e., mild shock), as measured via self-reported fear, the skin conductance response, and significant right anterior insula (aIn) activation. Multivoxel Pattern Analysis cross-classification also demonstrated that the pattern of activity in the right aIn during imagery acquisition was quantifiably similar to the pattern produced by standard visual acquisition. Additionally, mental imagery was associated with significant differential fear generalization. Fear conditioning acquired to imagined stimuli generalized to viewing those same stimuli as measured with self-reported fear and right aIn activity, and likewise fear conditioning to visual stimuli was associated with significant generalized differential self-reported fear and right aIn activity when imagining those stimuli. Together, the study provides a novel understanding of the neural mechanisms associated with the acquisition of differential fear conditioning to imagined stimuli, and of the relationship between imagery and emotion more generally.
... In evolutionary and cognitive approaches to fictional content, superstimuli have already been studied in fictional texts (Jobling, 2001;Nettle, 2005a,b;Singh, 2019), in movies (Cutting et al., 2011;Andrews, 2012;Clasen, 2012;Cutting, 2016Cutting, , 2021Sobchuk and Tinits, 2020), in video games , in artistic representations Nelissen, 2010, 2012), and in cross-media approaches to fiction (Grodal, 2010;Barrett, 2016;. ...
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This is a collection of 21 articles published as an eBook in Frontiers in Psychology. This Research Topic aims to demonstrate that imaginative culture is an important functional part of evolved human behavior—diverse in its manifestations but unified by species-typical sets of biologically grounded motives, emotions, and cognitive dispositions. The topic encompasses four main areas of research in the evolutionary human sciences: (1) evolutionary psychology and anthropology, which have fashioned a robust model of evolved human motives organized systemically within the phases and relationships of human life history; (2) research on gene-culture coevolution, which has illuminated the mechanisms of social cognition and the transmission of cultural information; (3) the psychology of emotions and affective neuroscience, which have gained precise knowledge about the evolutionary basis and neurological character of the evolved emotions that give power to the arts, religion, and ideology; and (4) cognitive neuroscience, which has identified the Default Mode Network as the central neurological location of the human imagination. By integrating these four areas of research and by demonstrating their value in illuminating specific kinds of imaginative culture, this Research Topic aims at incorporating imaginative culture within an evolutionary conception of human nature.
... According to it, the modern horror story functions as a technology that involves monstrous beings that allow us to exploit an adaptive motivational system to learn about danger and to calibrate our responses to it. Consuming horror stories has all the benefits of learning about dangers and responses to it but without the risk of actual harm (Clasen, 2012). This probably also explains why horror story fans have shown themselves to be more psychologically prepared when facing the COVID-19 pandemic (Scrivner et al., 2021). ...
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Vampires are mythological and folkloric creatures that have been catching people’s attention for centuries. They (fortunately or unfortunately) do not exist in the real world, but our intention in this article is to conduct a scientific interpretation of vampires as if they were real. Here, we examine some possible scientific explanations for vampirism, if it existed, particularly by looking at the biology of these fascinating creatures and proposing explanations based on real-world scientific knowledge. In the first section, we discuss what could be the cause and origin of vampirism in humans. In the second section, we analyze different aspects of the vampire phenotype, such as aversion to garlic, sensitivity to sunlight, anticoagulant and anesthetic production, aversion to religious symbols, and others. In the third section, we look at how the fear of vampires and other imaginary creatures might be related to the evolutionary history of our species. Finally, in the fourth section, we approach vampirism from the perspective of criminal psychology, briefly discussing the biography of three real-life murderers who have their atrocities related to vampirism: The Impaler, The Blood Countess, and The Vampire of Sacramento.
Collectively, IT (2017) and IT: Chapter 2 (2019) earned approximately $1.2 billion at the global box office against combined budgets of $114 million (an impressive 925% return on investment), making the duology touchstones for horror cinema in the modern era. Relatively few have focused on the industrial imperatives underwriting both films. Where some see the first film as an effective (if crass) cash-in of 1980s nostalgia, others see both films as expertly marketed, and still others claim they are simply well-made movies. A separate set of analyses have focused on the appeal of the evil clown archetype and its recent popular cultural ascent. Here, one group of writers have linked the rise in clown-related terror to the current state of political affairs—one characterized by demagogic buffoonery, chaotic and unpredictable governing, and purposeless malice. Regardless of one’s take on the films, it can be argued they serve as compelling artifacts that reveal not only the cultural fears and anxieties associated with the Trump era but also the workings of the motion picture industry and human psychology. To sort out this interpretative morass, this chapter draws from an ‘integrated analytical framework’ developed and applied by Mathias Clasen and Todd Platts to the study of slasher films. The framework pays attention to the sociocultural context that a film or set of films may reflect, the film-industrial factors that make certain films attractive from a production point of view, and the (evolved) psychological dispositions brought into play by specific films.
Building on inspiration from the Kenrick et al. (2010) ‘pyramid of needs’ renovation (Box 8.1), I offer here another version for remodeling a pyramid of human ‘drives’ (Box 9.1)—also conceptually framed by Darwinian evolution. To reinforce the central importance of the latter, the exalted pyramid cap represents not a motivation per se, but the overarching functional (adaptive) consequence connected to all of the underlying needs/drives: successful transmission of gene copies into future generations. The lowest and highest categories of motivations in Box 9.1 have essentially the same elements as corresponding levels in the Kenrick et al. version. In the latter, those levels associated with the core of ‘somatic effort’—Immediate Physiological Needs, Self-Protection, and Affiliation—are subsumed here under Survival Drive (Box 9.1), considered in Chap. 8. Similarly, the higher order ‘reproductive effort’ needs—Mate Acquisition, Mate Retention, and Parenting needs from Box 8.1—are distilled here within Sexual/Familial Drives, which also includes kin-helping (Box 9.1), considered in Chap. 7 (and 8).
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The modern zombie is the nec plus ultra in repulsiveness: an undead person-it could be your colleague, your neighbor, your grandmother-whose sole purpose is to eat you, alive. The aim of this paper is to investigate why the modern zombie is such a successful literary figure, a character that thrives in the cultural meme pool, as exemplified recently by the success of Max Brooks' cult bestseller World War Z (Brooks 2007; hereafter WWZ). Published in the journal Otherness: Essays and Studies.
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Showcases the latest developments in literary Darwinism, a powerful approach that integrates evolutionary social science with literary humanism. As the founder and leading practitioner of "literary Darwinism," Joseph Carroll remains at the forefront of a major movement in literary studies. Signaling key new developments in this approach, Reading Human Nature contains trenchant theoretical essays, innovative empirical research, sweeping surveys of intellectual history, and sophisticated interpretations of specific literary works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Hamlet. Evolutionists in the social sciences have succeeded in delineating basic motives but have given far too little attention to the imagination. Carroll makes a compelling case that literary Darwinism is not just another "school" or movement in literary theory. It is the moving force in a fundamental paradigm change in the humanities-a revolution. Psychologists and anthropologists have provided massive evidence that human motives and emotions are rooted in human biology. Since motives and emotions enter into all the products of a human imagination, humanists now urgently need to assimilate a modern scientific understanding of "human nature." Integrating evolutionary social science with literary humanism, Carroll offers a more complete and adequate understanding of human nature.
Man the Hunted argues that primates, including the earliest members of the human family, have evolved as the prey of any number of predators, including wild cats and dogs, hyenas, snakes, crocodiles, and even birds. The authors’ studies of predators on monkeys and apes are supplemented here with the observations of naturalists in the field and revealing interpretations of the fossil record. Eyewitness accounts of the ‘man the hunted’ drama being played out even now give vivid evidence of its prehistoric significance. This provocative view of human evolution suggests that countless adaptations that have allowed our species to survive (from larger brains to speech), stem from a considerably more vulnerable position on the food chain than we might like to imagine. The myth of early humans as fearless hunters dominating the earth obscures our origins as just one of many species that had to be cautious, depend on other group members, communicate danger, and come to terms with being merely one cog in the complex cycle of life.
Participants searched for discrepant fear-relevant pictures (snakes or spiders) in grid-pattern arrays of fear-irrelevant pictures belonging to the same category (flowers or mushrooms) and vice versa. Fear-relevant pictures were found more quickly than fear-irrelevant ones. Fear-relevant, but not fear-irrelevant, search was unaffected by the location of the target in the display and by the number of distractors, which suggests parallel search for fear-relevant targets and serial search for fear-irrelevant targets. Participants specifically fearful of snakes but not spiders (or vice versa) showed facilitated search for the feared objects but did not differ from controls in search for nonfeared fear-relevant or fear-irrelevant, targets. Thus, evolutionary relevant threatening stimuli were effective in capturing attention, and this effect was further facilitated if the stimulus was emotionally provocative.
An evolved module for fear elicitation and fear learning with 4 characteristics is proposed. (a) The fear module is preferentially activated in aversive contexts by stimuli that are fear relevant in an evolutionary perspective. (b) Its activation to such stimuli is automatic. (c) It is relatively impenetrable to cognitive control. (d) It originates in a dedicated neural circuitry, centered on the amygdala. Evidence supporting these propositions is reviewed from conditioning studies, both in humans and in monkeys; illusory correlation studies; studies using unreportable stimuli; and studies from animal neuroscience. The fear module is assumed to mediate an emotional level of fear learning that is relatively independent and dissociable from cognitive learning of stimulus relationships.
In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading. "This study's comprehensiveness and the author's bone-dry wit make this compelling reading, not just for folklorists, but for anyone interested in a time when the dead wouldn't stay dead. "-Booklist. "Barber's inquiry into vampires, fact and fiction, is a gem in the literature of debunking... [and] a convincing exercise in mental archaeology."-Roy Porter, Nature. "A splendid book about the undead, illuminated by the findings of morbid anatomy... . The main value of this most interesting book is to remind us how far we have come in our ability to explain the world and how this has released us from at least some terrors. "-Anthony Daniels, Spectator. "This book is fascinating reading for physicians and anthropologists as well as anyone interested in folklore."-R. Ted Steinbock, M.D., Journal of the American Medical Association. "A fascinating and pain-staking (sorry!) thesis, which welds together folklore, epidemic panic, communal stupidity, and forensic and funereal science."-Huw Knight, New Scientist.
This book provides analysis of how human biology, as well as human culture, determines the ways films are made and experienced. This new approach is called "bioculturalism." The book shows how important formats, such as films for children, romantic films, pornography, fantasy films, horror films, and sad melodramas, appeal to an array of different emotions that have been ingrained in the human embodied brain by the evolutionary process. The book also discusses how these biological dispositions are molded by culture. It explains why certain themes and emotions fascinate viewers all over the globe at all times, and how different cultures invest their own values and tastes in the universal themes.The book further uses the breakthroughs of modern brain science to explain central features of film aesthetics and to construct a general model of aesthetic experience, the PECMA flow model, which explains how the flow of information and emotions in the embodied brain provides a series of aesthetic experiences. The combination of film theory, cognitive psychology, neurology, and evolutionary theory provides explanations for why narrative forms are appealing and how and why art films use different mental mechanisms than those that support mainstream narrative films, as well as how film evokes images of inner, spiritual life and feelings of realism. Embodied Visions provides a new synthesis in film and media studies and aesthetics that combines cultural history with the long history of the evolution of our embodied brains.
The human mind needs monsters. In every culture and in every epoch in human history, from ancient Egypt to modern Hollywood, imaginary beings have haunted dreams and fantasies, provoking in young and old shivers of delight, thrills of terror, and endless fascination. All known folklores brim with visions of looming and ferocious monsters, often in the role as adversaries to great heroes. But while heroes have been closely studied by mythologists, monsters have been neglected, even though they are equally important as pan-human symbols and reveal similar insights into ways the mind works. In Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors, anthropologist David D. Gilmore explores what human traits monsters represent and why they are so ubiquitous in people's imaginations and share so many features across different cultures. Using colorful and absorbing evidence from virtually all times and places, Monsters is the first attempt by an anthropologist to delve into the mysterious, frightful abyss of mythical beasts and to interpret their role in the psyche and in society. After many hair-raising descriptions of monstrous beings in art, folktales, fantasy, literature, and community ritual, including such avatars as Dracula and Frankenstein, Hollywood ghouls, and extraterrestrials, Gilmore identifies many common denominators and proposes some novel interpretations. Monsters, according to Gilmore, are always enormous, man-eating, gratuitously violent, aggressive, sexually sadistic, and superhuman in power, combining our worst nightmares and our most urgent fantasies. We both abhor and worship our monsters: they are our gods as well as our demons. Gilmore argues that the immortal monster of the mind is a complex creation embodying virtually all of the inner conflicts that make us human. Far from being something alien, nonhuman, and outside us, our monsters are our deepest selves. Copyright