11 November 2010
Emotional Experience through the Art of Horror
After watching a particularly scary horror film, one might say that they had an emotional experience; most likely one characterized by fear. Some would say that this experience of fear is not a “real” emotion. In the essay “Fearing Fictionally,” Kendall Walton describes an example in which a person, Charles, watches a movie about a frightening green slime that oozes toward the screen and causes a response in Charles that he describes as terror. Walton argues that the sensation that Charles describes is not actual fear, but “quasi-fear” or as he later describes it, “fictional fear”(Walton 258, 264). I will argue that what Charles experiences, or any other person watching a horror movie experiences, is actual fear and that scientifically, it is not possible to draw a line between real and fictional emotion. The only possible distinction is to describe the stimuli that cause the emotion as being real or fictional. Different stimuli may have a different effect on our behavior, but the base emotion of fear is the same regardless of its end effect. Logical processes, which are completely separate from emotional ones, are responsible for the way we act in response to an experience.
First we need to separate emotional processes from logical ones. One brain process involves an involuntary response to outside stimuli. This would be Charles’ immediately apparent reaction to jump in his seat, for his stomach to drop, or heart rate to speed up. Not immediately apparent is an increase of activity in a certain region of the brain called the Amygdala (Johnson). This includes the release of certain hormones into the blood, which cause the physical aspects of fear as well as the generally described feeling of being afraid. These scientifically observable phenomena occur, whether we want them to or not, when we experience something frightening. In the movie The Descent, a...