Why do people seek out frightening leisure activities such as horror films and haunted attractions, and does the experience benefit them in any way? In this article, we address these questions through two separate studies. In Study 1, we asked American horror fans (n = 256) why they like horror and identified three overall types of horror fans, which we term “Adrenaline Junkies,” “White Knucklers,” and “Dark Copers.” In Study 2, we collected data from Danish visitors at a haunted house attraction (n = 258) and replicated the findings from Study 1 by finding the same three types of horror fans. Furthermore, we show that these three types of horror fans report distinct benefits from horror experiences. Adrenaline Junkies reported immediate enjoyment, White Knucklers reported personal growth, and Dark Copers reported both. These results suggest that frightening leisure activities are not only an outlet for sensation-seeking, and that the allure of horror may have as much to do with learning and personal growth as it has with high-arousal fun.
The Midlife Crisis
Osea Giuntella et al.
NBER Working Paper, September 2022
This paper documents a longitudinal crisis of midlife among the inhabitants of rich nations. Yet middle-aged citizens in our data sets are close to their peak earnings, have typically experienced little or no illness, reside in some of the safest countries in the world, and live in the most prosperous era in human history. This is paradoxical and troubling. The finding is consistent, however, with the prediction – one little-known to economists – of Elliott Jaques (1965). Our analysis does not rest on elementary cross-sectional analysis. Instead the paper uses panel and through-time data on, in total, approximately 500,000 individuals. It checks that the key results are not due to cohort effects. Nor do we rely on simple life-satisfaction measures. The paper shows that there are approximately quadratic hill-shaped patterns in data on midlife suicide, sleeping problems, alcohol dependence, concentration difficulties, memory problems, intense job strain, disabling headaches, suicidal feelings, and extreme depression. We believe the seriousness of this societal problem has not been grasped by the affluent world’s policy-makers.
The art of getting things done: Training affective shifting improves intention enactment
Katja Friederichs et al.
Effectively managing to-do lists and getting things done is a desirable competence. However, when things get difficult or demanding, many individuals struggle to put their intentions into subsequent actions. According to Personality Systems Interactions (PSI) theory, changes in positive affect are decisive for efficient intention enactment. Based on this understanding, in the present study we designed and evaluated an affect-focused intervention that practices shifting between high and low positive affect. In a control group design (N = 252, Mage = 26.40, SD = 10.24, range 18–66) the affective shifting intervention was contrasted against two other conditions (affective boosting and neutral). To test our assumptions, personal real-life intentions were assessed, and multifaceted measures (self-report, nonreactive) were applied and measured at different time points. To evaluate affective shifting, we tested interindividual benefits in the Stroop task. Additionally, we analyzed intervention effects on positive affect and intention enactment in real life. In line with our assumptions, we found that specifically those individuals who struggle with intention enactment (i.e., state-oriented) benefited in terms of better intention enactment ability in the Stroop task. Further, affective shifting fostered the decisive self-regulation of positive affect that directly improved intention enactment 3 weeks after the intervention. Lastly, affective shifting led to more self-coherent intention enactment, meaning a greater integration of Expectancy × Value considerations 3 weeks after the intervention. Discussion of our findings highlights the importance of theory-driven and affect-related interventions to close the gap between intention and action.
Low heart rate variability is associated with a negativity valence bias in interpreting ambiguous emotional expressions
Berge Osnes et al.
Most people tend to overstate positive aspects of their experiences, that is, a positive valence bias. However, some people tend to have attenuated attention for negative aspects of perceived information, that is, negative valence bias. This dispositional tendency in either valence is especially significant for emotion regulation as it influences the intensity of later stages of emotional experiences. Heart rate variability (HRV) is used as an index of emotion regulation and for the effect dispositional valence bias has on social cognition. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether a positivity or negativity bias in processing ambiguous facial expressions would predict high or lower HRV, respectively, in a healthy sample. The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test was presented to a sample of 128 healthy participants (N = 86 women participants), and resting HRV was acquired. In multiple linear regression analyses, the mean accuracy scores for items with positive, negative, and neutral valences were included as predictors of HRV. As a follow-up analysis, we tested whether a general tendency to interpret negative stimulus as positive, that is, a positivity bias, predicted HRV. Higher accuracy on items with negative emotional valence predicted lower HRV. There was no association between accuracy scores on items of positive or neutral valence and HRV. Higher positivity bias predicted higher HRV. The present findings suggest that a dispositional valence bias relates to levels of HRV and, as such, is influenced by the functioning of the vagal system.
The effect of fear-inducing stimuli on risk taking in people with psychopathic traits
Angela Book, Beth Visser & Tori Wattam
Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming
Research suggests that people with psychopathic traits experience fear-inducing stimuli differently from others, seeming to interpret fear as more positive and less negative. We expected that this reaction, termed fear enjoyment, would impact the effect of fear-inducing stimuli on self-report risk-taking behaviour. Risk-taking was measured before and after viewing excitement- and fear-inducing videos (N = 825). As expected from research showing that fear induction tends to reduce risk-taking tendencies, participants showed reduced risk-taking scores following a fear-inducing stimulus. Importantly, this relationship was moderated by psychopathic traits. Participants who did not decrease their risk-taking tendencies following the video scored significantly higher on psychopathic traits. Also, some of the variance in the relationship between psychopathic traits and change in risk-taking was partly accounted for by fear enjoyment, suggesting that future research should examine whether fear enjoyment may play a role in the relationship between psychopathy and risk-taking.
Bodily feedback: Expansive and upward posture facilitates the experience of positive affect
Patty Van Cappellen et al.
Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming
Most emotion theories recognise the importance of the body in expressing and constructing emotions. Focusing beyond the face, the present research adds needed empirical data on the effect of static full body postures on positive/negative affect. In Studies 1 (N = 110) and 2 (N = 79), using a bodily feedback paradigm, we manipulated postures to test causal effects on affective and physiological responses to emotionally ambiguous music. Across both studies among U.S. participants, we find the strongest support for an effect of bodily postures that are expansive and oriented upward on positive affect. In addition, an expansive and upward pose also led to greater cardiac vagal reactivity but these changes in parasympathetic activity were not related to affective changes (Study 2). In line with embodied theories, these results provide additional support for the role of postural input in constructing affect. Discussion highlights the relevance of these findings for the study of religious practices during which the postures studied are often adopted.