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The Effects of Horror Movies on Children

The implicit, and often explicit, intention of horror movies is to scare people. The fright engendered by horror movies can have residual psychological effects for years. Two studies, "Tales from the Screen: Enduring Fright Reactions to Scary Media" and another, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), both concluded that exposure horror movies may have long-lasting adverse effects on children.


The NIMH study reveals direct evidence that in children 5 and younger, especially toddlers, scary movies can produce acute cases of anxiety. The symptoms of this anxiety include sleeping disorders, aggressiveness and self-endangerment.


Both studies indicated that children exposed to horror films avoided real life situations shown in a fictional manner on screen. The subjects exhibited dread of facing those situations. Some children not only avoided real life situations, but also come to avoid seeing other movies or TV shows dealing with the same situations that instilled the original fear.


A common effect among older children and even tweens and pre-teens, upon viewing horror movies is to obsessively talk about the stimulus that produces the fear. The subject of the obsessive talk may be expressed in either a morbid fascination or a a need to alienate themselves from what they have seen through discourse.


Probably the most common effect that horror movies have on children is the production of nightmares. Many children as well as adults can be expected to have a nightmare after seeing a horror film, especially one that may be troublesome emotional or features particularly repulsive and upsetting gore.


The stimuli found to produce an adverse effect in children most often in horror films was the representation of blood or physical injury. Almost two-third of respondents report being affected emotionally more by the presence of blood and injury over stimuli such as disturbing images, environmental disasters, scary animals, monsters and aliens.

Most Common Symptoms

Many symptoms are associated with a reaction to viewing horror films. Among the most common symptoms include crying or screaming, trembling or shaking, upset stomach, clinginess, paralysis, sweating, fever, chills and loss of appetite.

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