Recently, I came across a psychology article from the APA talking about how horror movies can provide a safe environment to engage with our deep emotions and break rumination cycles. This is where we get to when a science is internally stove-piped because while horror may be something like exposure therapy in the acute and immeidate, in the chronic and social, it is the worst thing to ever happen to the field of mental health. Famously, the horror genre stereotypes and stigmatizes mental health conditions in ways that result in things like nonviolent anxiety attacks being handled by law enforcement and people being afraid of getting treatment for fear they’ll be seen as potentially dangerous.
One would come away from the article believing the genre is healthy to watch. That depends on how one defines mental health because if the definition of mental health includes having less prejudiced cognitive biases toward vulnerable populations then it is bad for mental health. It may help with traumatic experiences and help one attain some inner-peace but there are other ways to do that without a genre that is a Chernobyl-level clusterfuck for people suffering from serious mental health conditions. Clinical psychologists almost never deal with cognitive biases and don’t regard them as being a part of mental health.
It reflects the need to better integrate the field of psychology because a psychologist endorsing the horror genre is like a Black person endorsing the Klan. Psychology and the horror genre need to be sworn, mortal, enemies attempting a zero sum war with one another. Not horror, per se, since Lovecraft or Stoker are fine. Horror becomes a problem when it decides to base itself on stereotypical, visceral, fears because when it does that then it reflects the prejudices of society.
On this blog, I have in the past weeks touched on benevolent personality conditions. Psychology, as a field, when it does positive psychology, defines that as something I don’t: personal functionalty and inner-peace. I define it as much in terms of character. I would have that someone with PTSD from sacrificing for a noble cause is mentally healthier than someone with no altruistic pretensions and no DSM-5 conditions. I would further argue that moral neutrality is a mental disease and that someone with no altruistic pretensions and no disorders is, in fact, pathologically immoral. That the lack of altruism is a personality disorder that belongs with the dark triad.
The horror genre makes normalcy and moral apathy look saintly. If the pieces one consumes are about serial killers then one’s moral expectations of oneself and the bar one must clear to be a good person are extremely low. If instead one compares oneself to people doing good things and people with exceptional characters by constantly exposing oneself to their stories then one’s moral expectations of oneself will be higher. As I’ve said on this blog before, Ted Bundy is far more famous than Desmond Tutu. Just talking to people I know, Jeffery Dammher is more famous than the Thai Cave Rescue. A world where violent sociopaths are more famous than saints is not a good world, it is a bad world. Yet, again, clinical psychologists would not think about that since cognitive biases and character are outside of their purview.
Another thing the article seems to forget is meaning. As far as they were concerned, what mattered was the violent sociopathy providing a form of exposure therapy. It could be the cheapest slasher flick ever made, what makes the piece therapudic and good to consume is the presence of violent sociopathy. That sentence, alone, suggests how wrong their hypothesis is. Depth, meaning, subtext, and the rest trains neuroplasticity since it entails analysis and taking metaphor apart. Adjacent to meaning, there is beauty and redemption. Radical acts of humanity or stories which illustrate the best if the human condition have beauty and redemption. The Thai Cave Rescue has beauty and redemption, Jeffery Dammher does not. The latter is poisonous for the human soul.
In the end, the APA article shows how stove-piped the field of psychology is. They managed to put forward a hypothesis that stories about violent sociopathy are good. Whatever therapudic effects may be begotten from the horror genre, may be begotten elsewhere and the cons outweigh the pros massively.