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Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror

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Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror

Abstract

Fear of the dark (nyctophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), and snakes (herpetophobia) are universal terrors among human beings, whereas zombies, vampires, and psychopaths are more culturally specific. But do the cultures of horror (from folktales to Hollywood monsters) have roots in the evolution of our cognitive operating-system? Is our brain hard-wired with instinctual fears of certain morphologies, or does culture alone write our biases on the blank slate of developing consciousness? Horror is a biocultural nexus and can serve as an interdisciplinary bridge between humanities and scientific methodologies —a kind of case study for triangulating philosophy, psychology and biology. Recent research into the neuroscience of fear and cognition will be applied to some of the perennial experiences of horror, and an epistemology of horror will shed light on certain debates in the philosophy and evolution of mind.
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Vol. 81 : No. 4 : Winter 2014
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Stephen T. Asma
Monsters on the
Brain: An Evolutionary
Epistemology of Horror
“Suddenly he heard a groan—hiS teeth chattered,” writeS waShington
Irving about the frightened teacher Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy
Hollow. Crane finds himself in headless-horseman territory, tentatively
riding his stubborn horse along a dark road. In what many regard as
the first American horror story, Irving (2006) describes Crane’s charged
emotional state:
In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook,
he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It
stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some
gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler. The hair
of the affrighted pedagogue rose upon his head with terror.
What was to be done? (342)
A PHYSIOLOGY OF FEAR
Not only does one’s hair stand up with terror, but many other common
physiological changes overtake a frightened person. The sympa-
thetic nervous system is stimulated in cases of fight, freeze, or f light.
Sometimes the rage and attack system will activate and initiate intense
aggression. Neurologist Melvin Konner explains that
the nerve net, balanced by the braking power of the para-
sympathetic system, spurs the increase of heart rate, rise
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in blood pressure, increased flow of blood to the muscles,
and decreased circulation to the viscera that accompany
fear and flight in many animals. The shifting balance also
causes the reflexive emptying of bladder and bowel that
helps to prepare an animal for fight or flight and may hu-
miliate a man on the verge of a battle he cannot flee (Kon-
ner 2002, 209).
We also know that fear has a significant hormonal component.
Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), cortisol, and adrenaline are
some of the hormonal triggers and gates associated with fear. We have
been able to manipulate these in the laboratory and thereby produce
more and less fearful behavior in mammals. Experiments with mice
have shown that if scientists insert a gene that makes CRH, they will
produce a more fearful mouse. But removing the gene that builds the
CRH receptor, thereby gating the entry of the hormone, will result in
an extremely fearless mouse.
All mammals are equipped with adaptive instincts like fight or
flight, but these are old-brain systems, housed primarily in the brain
stem. Built on top of these midbrain systems are the limbic emotional
circuits. Emotional neuroscience (Panksepp 1998) has located seven
major emotional systems that mammals share: fear, care, lust, rage,
panic, seeking, and play.1 Each of these circuits has unique pathways
through the brain, enlists specific neurotransmitters and hormones,
and results in specific mammal behaviors. Fear, for example, has a
neurocircuitry that passes from the amygdala through the hypothala-
mus to the periaqueductal gray (PAG), down to the brain stem, and out
through the spinal cord. Natural selection built this operating system
in most vertebrates; it helped them survive in a hostile world.
Human and other mammal fear is regulated largely in the
amygdala, and neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux has mapped the path-
way by which fear and memory (in the hippocampus) work in tandem
to create conditioned learning (LeDoux 1996, 2002). When a person
associates dogs with aggression (and biting), for example, and then
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 943
crosses the street when dogs approach, her brain is cycling through
a similar circuit that governs rodent lab learning (foot shocks and as-
sociated images/smells). Fear is homologous across the mammal clade.
DARWINIAN ROOTS OF HORROR
Like any other biological trait, fear is subject to evolution. We have
evidence that mammals have heritable dispositional levels of fear
or timidity. And these levels of shyness can be artificially selected by
breeders, resulting in more fearful populations. Rats, for example, have
been analyzed in new threatening environments, and those animals
that displayed fearful behaviors (for example, immediate defecation
and reluctance to explore) were bred together. In only ten generations
of breeding, scientists were able to measure 10 times more fear in the
population, and 30 generations produced 30 times more fear (Konner
2002, 216).
Thinking about fear from a Darwinian perspective is revealing.
Darwin himself repeatedly brought snakes (real and fake) down to the
London Zoo primate house. He discovered that chimps had an extreme
fear of snakes, and concluded that some rudimentary taxonomic recog-
nition system seemed hardwired into the animals—some classification
system (probably morphological) carried emotional responses with it
and helped give the chimps a useful instinctual dread of threatening
species. Is it possible, then, that some of our own deep-seated monster
fears may be rooted in real predators or environmental threats from
our prehistory?
MODULAR OR CONDITIONED PHOBIAS?
Evolutionary psychology, typified by the work of Steven Pinker, John
Tooby, and Leda Cosmides, posits the existence of human cognitive
modules that were shaped during the Pleistocene era. These modules
are genetically engraved archetypes that all humans inherit from our
savanna ancestors, and they help us to instinctively classify snakes and
spiders as bad (dangerous).2 But this nativist view of phobias is problem-
atic. Not least of the trouble is that we know of no biological mechanism
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by which cognitive content can be replicated in the next generation of
brains. Of course, cultural mechanisms allow for transmission of content
horizontally (across a contemporary tribe) and vertically (down to
offspring), but nativists expect the modules to be innate. The universal-
ity of spider and snake phobia is proffered as a kind of proof that such
modules precede human cultures. But there is no direct evidence that
genes build brains with preset fear of creepy-crawly creatures. Instead, I
want to articulate—especially in light of growing data about early child-
hood neuroplasticity—a more flexible notion of phobias. The deeply
primitive and automatic aspect of fear and horror leads many to search
for innate switches, but an alternative model can account for both the
automatic/instinctual aspects of horror response and the modifiable/
learnable aspects.
In the 1940s, psychologist Donald Hebb continued Darwin’s
experiments, and showed that infant chimpanzees, who had no ear-
lier exposure to snakes, were nonetheless terrified of them when first
presented. But Hebb continued to introduce novel objects and ani-
mals to the chimps and discovered something more subtle than just
snake phobia. Hebb concluded that chimps had alarmed and fright-
ful responses to any extremely varied morphologies they encountered.
When something in their perceptual field “jumped out” as radically
different, then it could not be processed by the cognitive categories
already in place. As Konner (2002) describes it,
Against the background of knowledge already accumulated
by the infant chimps, the new objects were different; they
aroused many perceptual schemas or patterns stored in the
brain but fitted into none, causing arousal and then fear.
The brain was somehow designed to generate fear as the
result of such a cognitive mismatch (219).
Subsequent experiments by ethnologist Wolfgang Schleidt dis-
covered similar emotional/cognitive responses in birds (Schleidt 2011;
see also his website at http://www.schleidt.org/wolfgang/, which lists
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 945
relevant publications on hawks and turkeys, and an autobiographical
sketch of his work with Niko Tinbergen [1907–1988] and Konrad Lo-
rentz [1903–1989]). Chicks were exposed to a hawk-like cut-out shape,
which was passed over their nest. As one might expect from the Dar-
win and Hebb findings, the hawk shape struck fear in the chicks, while
a goose-shaped cut out garnered no such fearful behavior and physiol-
ogy. One might conclude from this that some rather species-specif-
ic instinctual fears were embedded in animal instincts. But Schleidt
showed that when new chicks were first exposed to repeated hawk-like
shapes, and then afterward presented with the goose shape, they were
frightened by the goose and not the hawk—corroborating Hebb’s idea
that some discrepancy between a new perception and previous back-
ground stored experiences causes the fearful response. Theoretically,
one could condition an animal to be unresponsive to snakes and hawks,
but utterly terrified of fluffy bunnies. The template of taxonomic fear
gets built upon the earliest experiences and categorial formations of
the animal. Manipulation of the original perceptual environment of
the animal will alter its later default anxieties.
This may explain the snake-fearing chimps differently than
Darwin, because now we have a generic pattern recognition system at
work rather than a specific preset snake phobia. But these new find-
ings make even better sense under Darwin’s theory of natural selec-
tion, because a general mechanism for “fearful reaction to categorial
mismatch” could be serviceable for any animal born into its native
habitat, where friends will be ubiquitous and foes will be atypical.
So such a general mechanism would be highly favored by selection.
Turkey chicks in the wild will develop default fears for hawks, and
chimps will develop default fears about snakes. The local environment
will condition the infant animal and then the cognitive development
will lock in the categories, creating a software program that recog-
nizes some animals and mismatch novelties. This theory also avoids
the troublesome implication that some very specific cognitive content
(like the idea of a snake) could be genetically heritable. Instead of the
improbable idea that a phobia module could be a specific cognitive/
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perceptual “representation” that is inherited over generations (a per-
ception to gene to perception process), this model suggests a content-
free recognition system only.
One objection to the theory that novel creatures cause fearful
responses is to ask, Why doesn’t every new experience scare the in-
fant? After all, absolutely everything is “new” once. Why isn’t the ani-
mal in a constant state of terror, as new experiences meet old stored
experiences? The answer is located in the findings of developmental
psychologist Mary Ainsworth’s “strange situation” experiments. Ain-
sworth (1913–1999) tested for infant fear by devising an experiment
in which a baby and mother are introduced to an unfamiliar woman.
The two women talk for a while and then the mother leaves the room,
returning after a three-minute interval. Over many trials with differ-
ent subjects from diverse racial, cultural, and class backgrounds, the
results showed that infant fear in the “strange situation” spiked dra-
matically after six months old (Ainsworth and Bell 1970). What this
appears to demonstrate, and brain science seems to confirm, is that
there is a window of opportunity for template formation. It’s a win-
dow that closes after six months, but prior to that allows all manner
of new experiences to be stored as normal. In those first six months
everything is recorded and the categories are laid down, whereas af-
ter the six months have passed, novelties are read against the now
congealed defaults. Fear from category mismatches cannot occur until
the normal categories are laid down, and that foundation is laid down
in the first six months—a time when infants can peacefully absorb
almost any stimuli.
PHOBIAS AND PHYLOGENETIC MEMORY?
Many of the creatures of the horror genre—like the “face-hugger” crea-
ture in Alien—are composites of real-life natural history enemies. Snakes
and spiders horrify most humans, so mixing them together into one
creature may well amplify the terror. Arachnophobia, or fear of spiders,
is a universal human dread—especially in children. Biologist Tim
Flannery asks, “Why do so many of us react so strongly, and with such
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 947
primal fear, to spiders? The world is full of far more dangerous crea-
tures such as stinging jellyfish, stonefish, and blue ringed octopi that
—by comparison—appear to barely worry most people” (Flannery 2008).
Flannery speculates a Darwinian story that connects human arachno-
phobia to our African prehistory. Since Homo sapiens emerged in Africa,
he wonders whether a species or genus of spider could have been pres-
ent as an environmental pressure. If humans evolved in an environment
with venomous spiders, then a phobia could have been advantageous
for human survival and such a trait could be expected to gain greater
frequency in the larger human populations. The six-eyed sand spider of
western and southern Africa actually fits that prediction very well. It is
a crab-like spider that hides in the sand and leaps out to capture prey. Its
venom is extremely dangerous to children, and one can see how a fear of
spiders, in this African context, would have been highly advantageous.
So our contemporary arachnophobia may be a leftover from our prehis-
tory on the savanna.
Is the phylogenetic “memory” of ancient danger somehow re-
written in our contemporary ontogeny as Flannery seems to be sug-
gesting here, or is the categorial mismatch system enough to make
spiders and snakes horrible? The modular nativists expect to find a
morphological archetype of “scary spider” somewhere in the inher-
ited mental landscape, but developmental mismatch theory suggests
a different mechanism to explain the same universal phobia. If early
Homo sapiens babies spent most of their first year strapped to their
mothers or otherwise protected (and off the ground) by parents and
alloparents, then creepy-crawlies of every variety would, once encoun-
tered, radically disturb the default categorial systems laid down in the
child’s first six months. The same argument can be enlisted to explain
other cases of predator-based phobias, like fear of big cats, crocodiles
and murky water, and other ecological threats. It also explains similar
phobias in our primate cousins. And if we add the emerging imagery
and stories of early human culture (cave paintings and gestural reen-
actments), we can see how “adaptive horror “can be strengthened, re-
inforced, and transmitted beyond the automatic process of categorial
mismatch.
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THE HORRORS OF CATEGORY JAMMING
Research in the development of cognition and emotions demonstrates
that the effects of stimuli on the organisms are delicate matters of degree.
Moderate perceptual variations (for example, meeting subtly different
creatures) from previously known schema only produce arousal and
attention in the perceiver, not fear. When Ichabod Crane, or anybody in
this genre, encounters a menacing headless person, their fear might be
broken down and analyzed in terms of cognitive mismatch. Perhaps the
sight of a combined normal (human) and abnormal (headless) creature
bearing down on one is a mental confusion between what should be the
case (having a head) and what is the case (no head). And perhaps this
confusion produces fear as an automatic secretion from the cognitive
tangle.
Of course, in this kind of rational reconstruction, one feels a
little like a dullard trying to give a scientific explanation of a success-
ful joke. In the order of felt experience, the fear is primary and doesn’t
seem to need an intellectual/cognitive glitch to kick-start it. In some
important sense, Ichabod is not afraid because he’s undergoing a cat-
egorial mismatch—he’s afraid because a headless monster is bearing
down on him. Isn’t that good enough to cause fear in the protagonist
and fear in the audience—do we really need a cognitive theory to ex-
plain it? But then we are forced back, given the experimental research
of Hebb and Schleidt, to asking why fears are associated with certain
experiences and not others. There seems to be some undeniable cog-
nitive component to monster fear.3 Is the headless man particularly
scary (when compared with the moustache less man or the hatless
man) because we’ve never experienced such an anomaly, or because
we have some deep conceptual understanding that heads are essen-
tial for human life? And therefore, is the headless monster a multiple
piece of “category jamming”—both morphologically incoherent and
also transgressing the categories of animate and inanimate?
The philosopher of horror Noel Carroll invented this term “cat-
egory jamming” and makes an argument that fits quite nicely with
Hebb’s and Schleidt’s mismatch theory. Carroll (1990) arrives at his
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 949
own mismatch theory by noticing that most horror monsters are dis-
gusting as well as threatening. Carroll follows the argument of British
anthropologist Dame Mary Douglas (1921–2007), who posited that hu-
man beings appear especially disgusted by “impurity.” Things that we
find impure, and consider as abominations, are usually interstitial en-
tities—in between normal categories of being. For example, blood, fe-
ces, spit, snot, and vomit all blur the usual categories of me and not me,
or human and not human. Pushing this idea of transgressing categories
further, Carroll extends the unsettling aspect of interstitial awareness
to the experience of all monsters in horror genres. The argument is
made more compelling by the fact that so many monsters are depict-
ed as truly disgusting. One thinks of the mucus-like slime oozing off
most aliens, or the gelatinous blob monsters, or the undulating goopy
transformations of shape-shifters, or the viscous twisting of monster
reproduction.
Carroll thinks that it is this cognitive slippage, invoked by mon-
sters, that explains why we are both repelled and drawn to horror
films and novels. The fascination or arousal produced by categorial
mismatch is the solution to the paradox of why we seek out an experi-
ence that is at least partly unpleasant. This argument has compelling
features, but also seems slightly too cognitive and intellectual (that
is, pertaining to the conscious mind) and not sensitive enough to the
unconscious noncognitive aspects of monster fascination.
THE WOMAN WITH HORROR BLINDNESS
Recent neuropsychology experiments present a way to synthesize
many of these philosophical and phenomenological insights. A woman,
referred to as SM in neuroscience literature, suffers from focal bilat-
eral amygdala lesions (Feinstein et al. 2011). Her compromised amyg-
dala means that she lacks the usual fear affect that normal mammals
experience. She is fearless. And researchers have studied her while they
exposed her to fear-inducing experiences (real snakes and tarantulas,
haunted houses, and horror films).
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Experiments repeatedly showed that the frightening stimuli
elicited high degrees of attention arousal in SM but no fear per se. She
would approach many of the threats with great curiosity and cogni-
tive excitement, but she did not have normal physiological or psycho-
logical fear responses. “The hidden monsters attempted to scare SM
numerous times, but to no avail,” researchers reported. “She reacted
to the monsters by smiling, laughing, or trying to talk to them. In con-
trast, 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”
(Feinstein et al. 2011, 36). In some cases she had to be prevented by the
researchers from putting herself in actual danger because she seemed
to lack the instinctual wherewithal.
Cultural theorist Mathias Clasen takes the SM case as evidence
that “horror monsters are not only terrifying; they are captivating”
(Clasen 2012, 224). He recognizes, in the pathology case of SM, a fail-
ure or breakdown of a universal affective system that explains (when
healthy) some of the cross-cultural features of horror. “Why,” he asks,
“do horror stories generally travel well across cultural borders, if all
they do is encode salient culturally contingent anxieties?” Cases like
SM suggest that horror has a finite set of triggers/responses that were
built during our hominid past. And we can glimpse how it works when
the system goes wrong, as in cases like SM.
One way to interpret the fearless woman is to see her as experi-
encing category jamming, in Noel Carroll’s sense, but failing to expe-
rience the affective feelings (avoidance, retreat, dread, etc.) that usu-
ally spark the appropriate adaptive response. The SM case also seems
consistent with the developmental story of fear acquisition that we
saw in Schleidt’s bird experiments. The default cognitive categories,
laid down in SM’s early childhood, are violated by horror images—pro-
ducing arousal—but the affective system of fear (based in the lateral
amygdala) is never appropriately triggered.
While the SM case seems to corroborate a correlation between
category jamming and arousal, it seems neutral regarding the theory
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 951
that such categorial mismatch is the cause of affective fear. It is possi-
ble that normal amygdalae are programed to respond with fear to the
kind of mismatches that occur in the prefrontal cortex, and SM sim-
ply has a broken link in this causal chain. But alternatively, it is also
possible that fear precedes all this cognitive machinery and triggers
more directly from perceptual data. Fear, in this view, is not a result of
cognitive confusion, but runs on a different physiological pathway al-
together. Placing fear before cognition (rather than as a consequence)
is more consistent with our understanding of evolution. Mammal emo-
tional adaptations (like fear) were under construction for hundreds of
millions of years before symbolic cognition arose in Homo.
The emotion/cognition complex in horror is a Janus-faced expe-
rience, partly imperative (I should run away) and partly indicative (that
creature is part-man and part-snake). According to some philosophers
of mind, like Ruth Millikan (2004), this Janus-faced representation is
strongly coupled together in lower animals—mice, for example, simul-
taneously recognize cats as a kind of thing (in a category) and as dan-
gerous (fear affect). Humans, on the other hand, can decouple these
two pathways (indicative and imperative) and fear can be reattached
to alternative kinds of creatures/perceptions. We may need to distill
the horror experience, and other emotionally charged judgments, into
a parallel process of affect and cognition, a process usually so interwo-
ven that it appears as one unified experience (and in animals always
remains so).
EMBODIED COGNITION AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING
The growing field of embodied cognition is trying to undo the mistakes
of earlier artificial intelligence and cognitive science by reintroducing
feelings and affect into judgment itself. Judgments of fear and horror
may be excellent case studies in a more mature view of human cognition
generally. While there are still psychologists and cognitive scientists
who think of the mind as a computer—one that is occasionally “contam-
inated” by our emotions—there is an alternative view. This alternative
guard, people like George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Antonio Damasio, Louise
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Barrett, and Jaak Panksepp, recognize that the mind is hopelessly (albeit
beautifully) entangled in the body. Reason is embedded in emotions and
cannot be separated. So, ethical emotions like empathy (care), which we
find in primates, are matters of the heart or at least matters of the limbic
system. Not only do primate studies reveal high degrees of empathy and
sharing in social animals (that is, rudimentary ethics), but we now have
neurological evidence that emotional decision-making helps us resolve
complex ethical quandaries in fast real-time scenarios. And in the same
way that prosocial emotions, such as empathy, can aid us in our ethical
lives, other emotions, such as fear, disgust, and horror, can be double-
edged swords when wielded in the social arena. They might protect us
from enemies, but they might also make “enemies” out of xenotypical
individuals and groups.
Neurologist Antonio Damasio (1991) suggests that there are
emotional settings or pathways, called “somatic markers,” that help
us make all kinds of decisions and especially automatic judgments. Re-
member that the amygdala controls emotion and the adjacent hippo-
campus handles memory, but these are in direct communication with
the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—the new brain area of decision-
making and executive control. Damasio suggests that somatic markers
(created in the communication between the amygdala and the ventro-
medial prefrontal cortex) create weighted behavioral options for us.
Should I run when I see the shadow approaching? Should I protect my
brother? Should I throw myself on a hand-grenade that’s landed in an
orphanage? What about a hand-grenade that’s landed in a corporate
lawyers’ convention? From the trivial to the sublime, fast decisions (in-
cluding both survival and ethical decisions) are heavily biased by the
emotional pathways that have been laid down by reward/punishment
associations in our previous experiences. This is different from other
forms of information learning. A positivist epistemology about sense
data, recall, and syntactical manipulation is not enough to account for
the uniquely “instinctual” and imperative aspects of emotional judg-
ments like horror and fear.4
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 953
As we grow up, we meet our environment with associated physi-
ological affective states. These affective responses to stimuli become
default emotional settings—for example, snakes give me the creeps.
But on the positive side, family and friends give me feelings of love and
affective bonds of loyalty (cemented by oxytocin and opioid produc-
tion). These somatic markers are processed in the pathway between
the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the limbic brain. When we
encounter new decision-making situations (for example, the police
are after my father) the somatic marker associations are triggered and
these physiological feelings quickly bias or influence our cognitive
processing. Positive feelings might well lead me to shelter my father
from the police in the scenario I’ve described. Or if my father had
been abusive I might show the cops exactly where he is hiding. These
are complex associations, but they are not different in kind from the
affective natural taxonomies that Schleidt discovered in birds and
Ainsworth discovered in babies. Attraction (love) and repulsion (fear)
color our world in an early encoded configuration, but these shift and
modify according to later experiential patterns.
The point is that these emotional responses are not instincts in
the sense of prewired or genetically engraved responses. The affective
systems are ancient in the sense that they have many homologies with
nonhuman animals, but in our individual lives they are idiosyncrati-
cally assigned and have significant plasticity. Emotional tendencies
and values can help us make fast appropriate responses to environ-
mental challenges, but they can also be retrained or reeducated.
ART AND THE ADAPTIVE IMAGINATION
Emotionally charged aesthetic experiences, such as Greek tragedy or
horror films, can shape somatic markers in the viewer. You cannot know
for sure how you will face the kind of horrors portrayed by Euripides
and Sophocles. And you probably can’t predict your responses to a
headless zombie, an alien face-hugger, an approaching sea monster, or
a chainsaw-wielding psycho. Hopefully, you are never going to be put
to the test. But you might face similarly terrifying trials. You might be
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assaulted, be put on the frontlines of some war, or be robbed, raped, or
otherwise harassed and assailed. We may be fortunate enough to avoid
such horrors, but we have all nonetheless played them out in our mind’s
eye. And though we can’t know for sure how we will face an enemy
soldier or a rapist, it doesn’t stop us from imaginatively formulating
responses. We use the imagination in order to establish and guide our
own agency in chaotic and uncontrollable situations. The horror story is
probably a permanent player in the moral imagination because human
vulnerability is permanent. The monster is a beneficial foe, helping us
to virtually represent the obstacles that real life will surely send our
way. As long as there are real enemies in the world, there will be useful
dramatic versions of them in our heads. And these rehearsals are volun-
tary sketches that both compose and employ our somatic markers.
People frequently underestimate the role of art and imagery
in their own value convictions. Through artwork, such as Shelley’s
Frankenstein, Hitchcock’s Psycho, King’s and Kubrick’s The Shining, art-
ists convey moral visions and audiences can reflect on them, reject
or embrace them, take inspiration from them, and otherwise be en-
riched beyond entertainment and catharsis. Good monster stories can
transmit values to us by showing us examples of dignity and depravity
without preaching or proselytizing. The horror we feel while watching
or reading The Walking Dead is matched only by the inspirational awe
we feel at the heroic family members in the bleak drama.
Following Leo Tolstoy’s (1996) theory, powerful art should “in-
fect” the audience with specific emotional content. But while Tolstoy
thought the infection should be “Christian love,” contemporary schol-
ars recognize a plurality of legitimate emotional themes and cognitive
strategies. We can see now that these virtual rehearsals and strategies
can be interpreted in terms of evolutionary fitness. Our big neocortical
brains don’t need to actually fall off a cliff to understand what such an
accident will do to us—our survival fitness is increased by simply play-
ing out such scenarios in our imaginations. If I, living on the ancient
Serengeti, see a conspecific attacked by a crocodile or lion, then my
brain quickly assigns a negative somatic marker (terror) to crocodile
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 955
or lion morphologies. I don’t need to reason much about it the next
time I encounter these creatures. Like other mammals, I need a fast
response to such threats—so, fear instincts (that are soft-wired rather
than hard-wired) do the trick.
Horror genres, along with the more ethical genres, have unique
powers to sculpt our somatic markers. Why does art communicate,
explore, and even reprogram values better than science? Because art is
a secret language that speaks directly to the limbic system. Art doesn’t
just tell us about emotional conflicts or clashes of values, it actually
speaks directly to our affective system—bypassing the discursive (syl-
logistic) rationality. Art triggers the emotions in us directly, it doesn’t
represent them to us. The story of a novel or a film may be a represen-
tation of another place and time, but the emotional content is a direct
infection in Tolstoy’s sense. It is not a representation of a feeling of
horror, but a contagion of horror.
NEOCORTICAL HORROR AND THE EXISTENTIAL
COMPONENT
Of course, horror is more than just fear. Horror, unlike fear, seems to have
existential significance embedded within it. Edgar Allan Poe describes a
species of horror in The Tell-Tale Heart: “Presently I heard a slight groan,
and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain
or of grief —oh, no!—it was the low stifled sound that arises from the
bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe” (Poe 2009, 200).
Horror master H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) tried to articulate a
difference between real horror and just common fear. Lovecraft argues,
in his 1927 Supernatural Horror in Literature, that good horror evokes a
unique subjective emotion, which he refers to as “cosmic fear.” There
is something in the horror experience, Lovecraft claims, that resonates
a deep instinctual awe of the unknown. “The one test,” Lovecraft ex-
plains,
of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be
excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of con-
956 social research
tact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude
of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or
the scratching of outside shapes on the known universe’s
utmost rim (1973, 7).
Lovecraft suggests that all humans have an instinctual awareness (some
more refined than others) of the paltry state of human understand-
ing—especially when compared with the almost limitless domain of
the strange and unfamiliar. That sense of fragility and vulnerability is a
major aspect of the “cosmic fear” that horror triggers in us.
The same year that Lovecraft published his Supernatural Hor-
ror in Literature, German philosopher Martin Heidegger published his
magnum opus Sein und Zeit (Being and Time). From quite a different
starting place, Heidegger, and other existential writers including Jean
Paul Sartre, argued that there is a radical kind of human experience,
which is like fear but in a way deeper. Heidegger calls this radical
dread “angst,” a now famous German word for anxiety. Fear, he ar-
gued, is different from angst, because fear is a response to a definite,
identifiable threat. One will have a fearful response to an assailant in
a dark alley, an approaching aggressive animal, a felt earthquake or
other natural disaster, and so on. But angst is an indefinite threat—the
danger is nowhere in particular and yet everywhere. Like Lovecraft’s
“cosmic fear,” Heidegger’s angst is an ineffable mood of metaphysical
proportion. Angst doesn’t make me aware of a particular threat, but
instead draws me out of my ordinary utilitarian ways of operating in
the day-to-day world and makes me aware of my existential quanda-
ry—who and what am I? “Being-anxious,” Heidegger says, “discloses,
primordially and directly, the world as world” (Blackwell 1978, part I,
chapter VI), and it brings human beings into a face-to-face crisis with
their own finitude. Angst is that unsettling philosophical sense that
you, and every other thing in the world, is just “pulvis et umbra.”
These philosophical demarcations of horror may now be corre-
lated with insights from brain science and evolution theory. Animals,
as we have already noted, are more constrained by their emotional op-
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 957
erating system. Fear in most mammals is dedicated to specific enemies
and comes charged with specific behavioral responses, but in human
beings the dedicated circuit can be broken. The relatively massive hu-
man neocortex (which expanded between 800,000 and 200,000 years
ago) allows for remarkable degrees of reflection. Unlike most other
animals, we can take our memories, ideas, goals, and emotions offline,
so to speak, and entertain them in a parallel universe of mental space.
The frightening monsters of the savanna can be decoupled from real-
time and represented on cave walls and in stories, and we can em-
bellish them without constraint inside this unique mental space. In
the mind, teeth and claws become sharper, predators become faster,
tentacles reach longer, and so on. Reflection can turn finite threats
into infinitely recurring vulnerabilities, and add totalizing or cosmic
dimension to our affective anxieties—principal among these appre-
hensions being death itself. Neocortical expansion creates space for
reflective symbolic counterfactual thinking, and along with that great
privilege comes relentless horror. The nihilist is a brain with a nega-
tive somatic marker attached not to this or that but to the concept of
the whole cosmos.
POLITICAL HORROR AND XENOPHOBIA
Arguably, one of the central functions of culture itself is to guide
somatic marker associations into prosocial pathways (using ritual, art,
and politics). In this sense, the somatic marker hypothesis modernizes
Freud’s repression thesis (in Civilization and Its Discontents) that prosocial
harmony comes at the cost of a difficult retraining of individual affects.5
Assigning the experience of horror to antisocial feelings and behaviors
(aggression, incest, murder) is part of culture’s job. Somatic markers are
socially engineered (mostly unconsciously, but sometimes consciously,
as in propaganda) by dedicating the flexible affective systems of fear and
aggression to specific “enemies” (of the tribe or state). The epistemol-
ogy of f lexible horror is not merely an academic question. It may seem
trivial to track the way ancient biological fears become reassigned to
creatures in monster movies (default snake phobias, for example, are
958 social research
heightened by Hollywood horror), but the triviality fades when we real-
ize that racism and xenophobia are subspecies of the same epistemic
processing.
Horror and monsters have always been politically useful. If
imaginative monsters (extrapolated from nature) can help train us for
survival in a hostile world, they can also easily corrupt our view of the
Other. The history of monsters, from the ancients to the present, is rife
with political demonization and dangerous propaganda (Asma 2009).
In-group tribal affiliation seems to thrive when it can oppose an out-
group, and one of the best ways to distance one’s own from another
group is to characterize the other as uncivilized, monstrous, inhuman,
horrifying.
A brief historical example will illustrate the way individuals
and groups can be transformed into monsters. In 1484 Pope Innocent
VIII gave Dominican inquisitor Heinrich Institoris wide-ranging legal
powers to pursue and eradicate witches (Papal Bull Summis desiderantes
affectibus). The Bull was used as a justification preface for Institoris’s
famous demon-hunting guide, Malleus Maleficarum. The Malleus foments
many primordial fears and apprehensions—and no greater wellspring
of irrational fear and worry exists than the emotions surrounding the
subject of one’s children. When you first become a parent, charged
with the greatest responsibility possible, you discover subterranean
emotional deposits of vulnerability in yourself that you didn’t know
existed. Parents of the medieval era had the Malleus to help nourish
their worst hysterical fears, because witches were apparently very in-
terested in stealing and eating babies. As Institoris describes it, “Mid-
wives who work harmful magic kill fetuses in the womb in different
ways, procure a miscarriage, and, when they do not do this, offer new-
ly born children to evil spirits” (Institoris 2007, Question 11).
There are three ways that witches go after the sacred purpose of
procreation. The first is to render the man’s penis flaccid. The second
is to produce a miscarriage or prevent conception altogether. And the
third is to steal the infant shortly after birth, in order to eat the baby
or offer it to an evil spirit. “Those who are indisputably witches are ac-
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 959
customed, against the inclination of human nature—indeed contrary
to the temperament of every animal (at least, with the exception of the
wolf)—to devour and feast on young children.”
Institoris relates a story from his colleague, the Inquisitor of
Como, that “a man had lost his child from its cradle and, while he
was searching for it, he saw some women who had gathered together
during the nighttime, and he came to the conclusion that they were
slaughtering a child, drinking its fluid, and then devouring.” In re-
sponse to that event, the Inquisitor of Como came down very hard on
the local witches, burning over 41 of them in a single year. One might
well ask how all this baby stealing and torturing was possible, and
the answer is simple: midwives. The Malleus takes a very dim view of
midwifery—associating midwives with witches, and witches with baby
eating (Heinsohn and Steiger 2004).6
It is hard to imagine a more horrific charge than baby eating,
which is precisely why some inquisitors made the same charge against
the Jews. And this legend can be added to the others, like the Gates of
Alexander, that sought to demonize Jews as monsters.7 For Institoris,
Jews were like witches in another important way. Unlike other hea-
then, Jews and witches had been exposed to the Christian faith (had
understood the teachings of the Gospel) but had then decided to reject
it or turn away from it. This was considered worse than those people
who were oblivious to the Gospel. It was an old anti-Semitic charge,
further heightened by Institoris’s theological attempt to link demonic
witches and Jews directly.
This crude association of midwives and Jews with fear and ag-
gression is cultural work (for example, myth, imagery, stories), but
cultural work upon the underlying mechanism of fear conditioning—
the amygdala. Unconscious bias against different races, genders, eth-
nic groups, and economic groups is a growing research area in social
psychology. Repeatedly associating a token of an out-group type with
negative affect will tag all members of the type with a negative so-
matic marker. The amygdala system does this nefarious work.
960 social research
THE END OF HORROR?
David Amodio (2013) at the New York University Social Neuroscience
Lab has been researching our bigoted brains. His experiments find that
many whites (around 75 percent) have split-second negative responses to
blacks, and these are subconscious and unavailable to conscious intro-
spection. Our brains evolved to do fast pattern recognition and make
unreflective judgments, often equating “difference” with negative
affect.
Our amygdala is highly activated when we assess strangers.
Our brain is helping us make predictions about what and who will be
threatening, and our whole body is then tilted toward an appropriate
action potential. If our cultural milieu is filled with negative racial ste-
reotypes, then we have unconsciously generated many negative affect
somatic markers for those people who are different. Even below this
cultural level of subconscious taxonomy or classification, we should
also incorporate the developmental xenophobia that Schleidt’s birds
and Ainsworth’s babies demonstrate. If you’re white and you never
encounter a black person when you’re a baby, then you may have cat-
egorial mismatch issues (and negative affect) later when you do.8
As Amodio (2014) points out, however, we are not prisoners of
our fear-conditioned patterns. We have the complex frontal cortex
that helps us inhibit knee-jerk negative impulses, but also gives us
the reflective powers to reimagine and retrain our antisocial somatic
markers. “The human mind is extremely adept at control and regula-
tion,” Amodio says, “and the fact that we have these biases should
really be seen as an opportunity for us to be aware and do something
about them.”
But what exactly can we do about them? We know, cognitively
speaking, that this or that racial member is not a baby eater, a mon-
ster, a horror, but such knowledge is relatively effete when compared
with subconscious amygdala motivation—which is so robust that it
appears instinctual.
If the epistemology that I have been sketching is correct, then
the solution to xenophobia and the demonization of the Other is affect
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 961
replacement, not information enrichment. Just as Tolstoy thought his
novels could infect readers with love, Charles Dickens also saw his
novels as a way of inspiring prosocial affect and thereby improving
social policies. In the 1840s, Dickens was mortified by a government
report about the child labor abuses of factories and mines. He knew
firsthand about the social injustices in the underclass and he tried
composing pamphlets with stilted titles like “An Appeal to the People
of England on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.” Dickens’ philosophical
and political screeds fell to the ground unread, so he vowed to strike a
“sledge-hammer blow . . . on behalf of the poor man’s child” (Schlicke
2011, 102). This eventual sledge-hammer blow, which showed the dig-
nity of poor Victorians and revealed their hidden struggles, was called
A Christmas Carol (1843).
In Somerset Maugham’s book The Summing Up (1938), he reflects
on his own ethical novels, including Of Human Bondage and the Razor’s
Edge, and echoes Tolstoy’s earlier call for socially conscious art. Art,
Maugham argued, should not succumb to elite, aesthete tendencies.
It should not turn in on itself in an art-for-art’s-sake narcissism, but
should instead look outward. “For art, if it is to be reckoned as one of
the great values of life, must teach men humility, tolerance, wisdom
and magnanimity. The value of art is not beauty, but right action”
(673). Art, like religion and political rhetoric, has the ability to culti-
vate moral sentiments and inspire moral action. As “affect manage-
ment,” culture has the potential to paint the Other as horrifying (Is-
lamophobia, homophobia, for example) or paint the Other as brethren.
Reconfiguring the antisocial somatic markers created by politi-
cal horror is fundamentally a cultural therapy project, but some re-
cent neuroscience pulls back the curtain on how such reconfiguring
happens. Kateri McRea et al. (2008) conducted a series of fMRI studies
on emotional regulation. The study measured brain activity first while
male and female subjects were exposed to disturbing negatively va-
lenced images, and then while the subjects engaged in calming meth-
ods (emotional regulation strategies). In addition to cognitive reap-
praisal strategies (for example, subjects reminding themselves that the
962 social research
horrible image is only a movie), many subjects—especially women—
appeared to diminish negative feelings by enlisting positive feelings
(for example, happy memories) to supersede the adverse emotions. In
men, the amygdala down-regulates more rapidly upon cognitive reap-
praisal, but in women the amygdala stays more active and appears
to be processing positive affect from the ventral striatum (a reward/
pleasure processor). The gender issue aside for our purposes here, the
interesting issue is that neuroscience reveals a brain system that helps
us replace fear, horror, and disgust with positive affects. The brain has
a therapeutic architecture.
Recent social psychology suggests that human tribalism (un-
derwritten by amygdala-based fears about out-groups) might be in-
evitable, but also highly susceptible to revision. So promiscuous and
flexible is in-group favoritism that it can be weaned off the usual ne-
farious criteria of blood ties, race, sex, and class, to be reassigned to
more benign affiliations. Psychological experiments (Tajfel 2010) re-
veal a whole range of criteria for in-group bias. For example, test sub-
jects have been shown to award higher payoffs to arbitrary in-groups,
such as people who just happen to share the same birthday as the test
subject. And in-group bias can be demonstrably strong when subjects
share allegiance to the same sports teams, and so on.
A fickleness of tribalism is potentially good news for reedu-
cating bigots, giving new hope to liberalism generally. But of course,
such promiscuity or flexibility of affective bonds also reduces positive
solidarity mechanisms too, including loyalty (Asma 2012). Liberalism
often forgets that strong tribal forms of socioeconomic organization—
families, for example—still do most of the day-to-day living, dying,
cooperating, and conflicting well below the radar (and the ideals) of
abstract state-level egalitarianism (Earle and Johnson 2000). Many
small subsistence groups, such as families, tribes, and chiefdoms, con-
tinue to struggle for resources inside the larger political frameworks
of nation-states, and this means that the psychology of vulnerability is
a daily experience. These smaller us-them dynamics continue to draw
on the ancient epistemology of xeno-processing. Therefore, horror,
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 963
like other emotions, may continue to have adaptive utility in our con-
temporary biological and political environments.
NOTES
1. In addition to Jaak Panksepp, Paul Ekman and Richard J. Davidson are
crucial researchers into the affective springs of human and animal
emotions. And while they may quibble about Panksepp’s master list of
emotions, all three share an empirically grounded commitment to the
importance of bio-social adaptive affect and expression.
2. See the many articles by evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides
and John Tooby, particularly “The Lords of Many Domains,” The Times
Higher Education Supplement, June 25, 1993. Philosopher Jerry Fodor
surveys the general thesis, in his book The Modularity of Mind (1983)
and elsewhere, that the mind may be more “modular” than we previ-
ously thought, and strong phobias (and language acquisition) may
be evidence of these modules—each module being like a hard-wired
preset that evolved for guiding human thinking and behaving.
3. In 1962 S. Shachter and J. Singer demonstrated, in their paper
“Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of Emotional
State” (Psychological Review, 69), that an emotion requires both a physi-
ological arousal and a correlate cognition. For example, if a subject
is injected with adrenalin, she does not automatically have an
emotional response to the chemical. If however, the subject is first
questioned about a painful event, then the injection will trigger an
upsetting emotional response. The cognitive interpretation of, or even
just correlation with, physiological arousal, is crucial to defining the
subsequent felt emotion.
4. Neuroscience has begun to correct the computational model by show-
ing how our rational, linguistic mind depends on the ancient limbic
brain, where emotions hold sway and social skills dominate. In fact,
the cognitive mind works only when emotions preferentially tilt our
deliberations. Damasio et al. (1991) worked with patients who had
damage in the communication system between the cognitive and
emotional brain. The subjects could compute all the informational
964 social research
aspects of a decision in detail, but they couldn’t actually commit to
anything. Without clear limbic values (that is, valenced feelings),
Damasio’s patients couldn’t decide their own social calendars, priori-
tize jobs at work, or even make decisions in their own best interest.
Our rational mind is embodied, and without this emotional embodi-
ment we have no preferences. In order for our minds to go beyond
syntax to semantics, we need feelings. And our ancestral minds were
rich in feelings before they were adept in computations.
5. Retraining our “pleasure principle” to accommodate other egos and
conform to the “reality principle” is accomplished by affective asso-
ciational reeducation, not merely cognitive reassessment. One must,
according to Freud, learn to loath one’s selfish desires, not merely
calculate their social liability.
6. No particular compelling reason is given in the text for this hostil-
ity. Institoris claimed, however, that penitent witch-midwives had
confessed to him (doubtlessly under duress) that, “No one does more
harm to the Catholic faith than midwives. When they don’t kill the
children, they take the babies out of the room, as though they are
going to do something out of doors, lift them up in the air, and offer
them to evil spirits” (Institoris, 2007, Part I, Question XI). While the
Malleus itself offers little clue to the antimidwife campaign, some
recent social scientists in Germany have suggested that midwives
represented a threat to procreation because they knew the herbal
arts of contraception and abortion. In a time when European popula-
tions had been decimated by plagues, the Church sought to rebuild
its people. Disease, schism, Muslims, and infidels of all stripe seemed
to be at the door of Catholicism. Midwives, with their contraceptive
“magic,” seemed to the Inquisition to exacerbate the problems, and
this may be why they became prime suspects in the witch trials.
7. “Alexander’s Gates,” the story of a barrier against barbarian enemies,
seems to have first appeared in sixth-century accounts of the Alexander
Romance, but the legend is probably much older. Alexander supposedly
chased his foreign enemies through a mountain pass in the Caucasus
region and then closed them all behind unbreachable iron gates. The
Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror 965
details and the symbolic significance of the story changed slightly in
every medieval retelling, but it was very often retold—especially in
the age of exploration. According legend, the monsters’ incarceration
behind Alexander’s Gates is only temporary. They await their immi-
nent release, the medievals believed, and would be upon us shortly.
The famous Travels of Sir John Mandeville (published between 1357 and
1371) reveals precisely how this unleashing will finally occur. The ficti-
tious Mandeville (2011) retells the story of a monster zone (full of drag-
ons, serpents, and venomous beasts) in the Caspian Mountains, but
he adds another ethnic group—indeed, what he considers the main
ethnic group—to the famous confinement. In Chapter 29, he states
that “between those mountains the Jews of ten lineages be enclosed,
that men call Gog and Magog and they may not go out on any side”
(157). Here he is referring to the legendary 10 lost tribes that disap-
peared from history after the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century
BCE. These Jews, according to Mandeville, will escape during the time
of the Antichrist and “make great slaughter of Christian men. And
therefore all the Jews that dwell in all lands learn always to speak
Hebrew, in hope, that when the other Jews shall go out, that they may
understand their speech, and to lead them into Christendom for to
destroy the Christian people.”
8. Eventually Homo sapiens evolved representational ways to communi-
cate and improve the norms of our social contract. But before rules,
morals, and laws we had prosocial affective systems—kin loyalty,
empathy and so on—which served to bond small groups together. Even
our basic folk-taxonomy of the world into friends and foes requires
that perceptions and memories be emotionally coded with feelings
of approach or avoid. The cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke,
who runs Harvard’s famous “baby lab,” has interpreted the problem-
solving skills of prelinguistic human babies as evidence for inborn
core knowledge—innate modules of cognition. And the psychologists
Karen Wynne and Paul Bloom at Yale have interpreted babies’ early
social preference for cooperative companions as cognitively smart—
the product of early conceptual thought. I have been suggesting an
966 social research
alternative, emotions-based model for things like social preferences.
Affection, not cost-benefit computation, is the true spring of primate
social life.
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... Bishop (2009) noted that the zombie genre became popular after 9/11, as a channel for social fears. Asma (2014) argued that zombies are "beneficial foes" who invite us to consider creative solutions to unanticipated problems. Reed and Penfold-Mounce (2015) saw TWD as stimulating the sociological imagination, informing a range of social and organizational themes. ...
Thesis
As the past decade built toward today’s crisis, Scandinavian social democracy was frequently suggested as a model that could reform capitalism. The Nordic region’s income equality, gender equality, low-conflict politics, and prosperous economies with generous benefits contribute to high levels of happiness and social cohesion. Leading politicians on the American Left, as well as a majority of young Americans, express that they would prefer such outcomes. But is the Nordic Model suitable for cross-cultural export? This study examines the cultural origins of Scandinavian egalitarianism by applying an evolutionary perspective to ten influential works of fiction. These criticisms—ranging from an Icelandic saga to Swedish posthumanist TV—align to trace the emergence of modernity in the Nordic region. These works illustrate how fiction can be an evolutionary tool when environmental change requires that communities update the story they live by, their master-narrative. This study analyzes the ideological evolution from the polytheistic beliefs of Viking kinship societies, to Christian monotheism, to religious and later secular humanism, the master-narrative of the modern world. With each of these transitions, communities face a narrative abyss. The unquestionable story that had provided meaning, informed their cooperation, and dictated which future to strive for becomes transparent to them. Homo sapiens need such stories, or their larger communities come unglued. Reading these Nordic case studies through an evolutionary lens illuminates the brain mechanisms that make us factionalize, fall prey to anxiety, double down on orthodoxy, or even kill our neighbors during these master-narrative transitions. This study proposes that the West entered into such a transition in the 2010s. No longer convinced by liberal humanism, some populations have reverted to older stories of nationalism or tribal belonging. Until people are able to unite around a new master-narrative, things could get worse. The tenth work of fiction points to the leading candidate for becoming tomorrow’s uniting story: dataism. This study concludes that social democracy arose from uniquely Nordic experiences, which makes the political model unlikely to work well elsewhere. But insights from this journey through a millennium of cultural change illuminate the challenges humanity faces in the twenty-first century.
Chapter
The films Citizen Kane and Forrest Gump are employed to show the impact of framing a story on knowledge formation. It advances from Saussure to argue the intervention of the political in explaining the varying of meanings. The chapter presents a genealogy of Critical Muslim studies. It outlines how Critical Muslim Studies diverges from Islamic Critical Theory, Critical Muslim Theory and Critical Muslim of Ziauddin Sardar. The benefits outlined of applying Critical Muslim Studies. A new term, scotoma, is introduced to account for the lack of the colonised narrative in Eurocentrism. The employment of ‘problematisation’ is promoted as applied by Foucault.
Chapter
With the persistence of Islamophobia, it considers counter-Islamophobia strategies adopt anti-racist approaches but to go beyond calling for tolerance, respect and equality. It asses the value of education, legal definition, apology, civil rights movement, multiculturalism and other approaches in countering discrimination. It calls upon anti-Islamophobia activists to counter Britishness that resists Muslimness being part of its symbol. A decolonial counter-Islamophobia approach challenging the postcolonial symbolic representation of racist Britishness is outlined. This demands the deflection of differences between cultures to unculture, the national symbolic myth. The counter-Islamophobia strategy advances a project for liberating the reformulation of imperial Britishness that promotes a post-racist rather than a post-race society.
Chapter
Islamophobia has gained common currency but raises intense debate about its relevance in describing discrimination against Muslims. The chapter interrogates the discussion around the term Islamophobia. The need for a definition of Islamophobia and how to formulate a definition. Three other themes common in the study of the Islamophobia paradigm are also discussed: Has the Muslim-British always been antagonistic? Is Islamophobia a reserve of the far-right? How to account for the global nature of Islamophobia.
Article
Most of the literature has viewed large classes as a problem and a challenge. Furthermore, large classes are often presented to be an obstacle to students’ experiential learning and a multitude of solutions can be found in the literature to manage large classes; solutions that include innovative technologies, alternative assessment designs, or expanding the capacity of delivery. This conceptual paper advocates that large classes, when used intentionally as a pedagogical tool, can be a powerful means for socialized and experiential learning for our students. In this work we connect the phenomenon of large classes with social network theory and concepts to re-conceptualize large classes as a social micro-cosmos consisting of a multitude of interconnected student communities. On this conceptual basis we offer three positive features of large classes: (i) higher levels of freedom for students to learn in their own terms (ii) learning from a diverse body of students and (iii) the provision of meaningful experiences of learning. We conclude with suggestions that should enable educators in large classes shift from an individualistic psychology-based model of experiential learning to a sociological model of experiential learning.
Conference Paper
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Psikolojik ve fizyolojik tepkimelerin bir sonucu olarak ortaya çıkan korku duygusu, insanlığın yeryüzünde hayatta kalabilme başarısının önemli etmenlerindendir. Tehlike hissedildiğinde savaşma veya kaçma eylemlerini tetikleyen bu tepkimeler, korku duygusunun bilinç ve bilinçdışı eğilimlerini göz önüne alma gerekliliğini doğurur. Deneysel psikoloji alanında korku duygusu ile ilgili önemli çalışmalar yapılmış ve korku duygusunun farklı boyutları ortaya konulmuştur. Deneysel psikolojide korku ile ilgili yapılan deneyler arasında fikir ayrılığı bulunsa da bu deneylerin sinemaya uyarlanabilecek bulguları mevcuttur. Bu bulgular çerçevesinde çalışmada açıklanan korku kavramı, korku filmlerinin alt türleri, coğrafi farklılıkların korku sinemalarına yansımaları ve özdeşleşme kavramı ışığında; Türk korku filmi seyircisinin korku filmi tercihleri değerlendirilmiştir. - Feeling of fear that shows up due to psychological and physiological functions, is one of the most important factors of the humanities success of survival on earth. Those reactions that trigger fighting or running acts, cause the necessity of considering conscious or subliminal tendencies. In the field of experimental psychology, many important researches about fear bias has been done and different dimensions of fear tendencies has been shown. Although there are some conflicts between fear in experimental psychology and those experiment, there are some findings that can be adapted in cinema. Within those findings; concept of fear that has been accounted in this study, sub genres of horror films, reflection of geographical differences on horror films, preferences of Turkish horror film audience are evaluated.
Article
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Real or imagined, literal or metaphorical, monsters have exerted a dread fascination on the human mind for many centuries. Using philosophical treatises, theological tracts, newspapers, films, and novels, author Stephen T. Asma unpacks traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of our fears and fascinations throughout the ages.
Article
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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)
Article
The social neuroscience approach to prejudice investigates the psychology of intergroup bias by integrating models and methods of neuroscience with the social psychology of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. Here, we review major contemporary lines of inquiry, including current accounts of group-based categorization; formation and updating of prejudice and stereotypes; effects of prejudice on perception, emotion, and decision making; and the self-regulation of prejudice. In each section, we discuss key social neuroscience findings, consider interpretational challenges and connections with the behavioral literature, and highlight how they advance psychological theories of prejudice. We conclude by discussing the next-generation questions that will continue to guide the social neuroscience approach toward addressing major societal issues of prejudice and discrimination. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 72 is January 4, 2021. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
Article
Despite strong popular conceptions of gender differences in emotionality and striking gender differences in the prevalence of disorders thought to involve emotion dysregulation, the literature on the neural bases of emotion regulation is nearly silent regarding gender differences (Gross, 2007; Ochsner & Gross, in press). The purpose of the present study was to address this gap in the literature. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we asked male and female participants to use a cognitive emotion regulation strategy (reappraisal) to down-regulate their emotional responses to negatively valenced pictures. Behaviorally, men and women evidenced comparable decreases in negative emotion experience. Neurally, however, gender differences emerged. Compared with women, men showed (a) lesser increases in prefrontal regions that are associated with reappraisal, (b) greater decreases in the amygdala, which is associated with emotional responding, and (c) lesser engagement of ventral striatal regions, which are associated with reward processing. We consider two non-competing explanations for these differences. First, men may expend less effort when using cognitive regulation, perhaps due to greater use of automatic emotion regulation. Second, women may use positive emotions in the service of reappraising negative emotions to a greater degree. We then consider the implications of gender differences in emotion regulation for understanding gender differences in emotional processing in general, and gender differences in affective disorders.