Couch Psychology: Paranormal Activity 3 & Real Life Fear

Couch Psychology:  Horror Movies & Real Life Fear


Regular readers of will know that the main reason we watch horror movies like Paranormal Activity 3 is to help us master our real life fears, and hopefully many of you have started watching more horror movies as a result. If this is you, please feel free to jump the next little section (between the lines) and continue reading below. For new readers of, firstly, welcome, and secondly, let’s get you up to speed with the purpose and laws of horror movies as psychology dictates to show how Paranormal Activity 3 and other horror movies cure fear.

Horror movies like Paranormal Activity 3 have always been a staple in the movie business. We all love scaring the hell out of ourselves. But why? Why do we indulge in our negative feelings, which, surely, is a most illogical thing to do?

As psychology,we intentionally put ourselves through the fear of horror movies because we wish to learn to control fear. When we watch a movie, our empathy for the movie’s characters engages us in the story psychologically to a degree. It is almost like real life watered down and made easier to swallow. We feel the ups and downs of a characters emotions, but we experience those emotions to a lesser degree than we would in real life.  This is one reason why we are so drawn to fear in horror movies. No one wishes to experience fear in real life, but a watered down movie version is actually rather thrilling.

Images From Paranormal Activity 3 

Being engaged in the fear of a movie, our minds then proceed to follow the development of the story, much as we might follow the development of our real lives. So it is that we witness characters being killed in horrendous ways, we feel fear and other real life negative emotions (though again, watered down) and finally we see the resolution of the horror when the evil entity is killed.

So, we have a watered down, easier to bear version of life through which we regularly experience fear and regularly see that fear comes to an end. To put it another way: We learn that when we experience the feeling of fear, a positive resolution is not so far away. For instance: we have an exam coming up that we are terrified about, but horror movies have taught us not to heed fear too greatly as the evil entity (the exam) will soon be over. As can be seen, the more horror movies we watch, the more we learn to accept and control our fear.

Now we are all up to speed we know why we are going to watch Paranormal Activity 3: To learn to master our fear.  And yet most of us will be watching Paranormal Activity 3 with a group of friends, a factor which sadly serves to lessen the “fear mastering” aspect of horror movies quite greatly.

This might sound a little strange at first. After all, we are watching the same movie so why should it matter who is with us?  The reason is that, in truth, only a part of the movie is occurring on the screen. There is the movie, and then there is the person watching. Or, to put it another way: “I AM WATCHING a horror movie” involves both the movie itself and the person watching.

When we watch a horror movie, we are merging real life with the movie itself. It is for this reason that watching a horror during the day time in a crowded room will generally be much less scary than watching a horror alone in the dark in the middle of a forest.  The real life circumstances in which we are watching the movie greatly influence our psychological experience of that movie.

Now, let us return to our process of mastering fear. Here is the process as psychology sees it…

1)      We watch a horror movie, 2) We are scared of the evil entity, 3) We (via the characters) find an answer to our fear 4) Resolution

The most important part of this process is step 3) The Answer. This step can best be thought of as the turning point in the horror, the moment at which the lead characters discover the way to end the evil. This is the bridge between FEAR and RESOLUTION and is often one of the most important parts of the movie because it teaches us a way to control fear.

Why Watch Paranormal Activity 3 Alone…

Only half of the resolution to the real life fear we experience when watching a horror movie comes from the movies itself. Again, when we watch a horror movie, we are merging reality and the movie. So, if we are watching a movie with friends, we will learn that our friends can cure our fear even if the character in the movie fought their fear alone, and if we watch a horror movie alone, we will learn to master fear alone even if the character in the movie was saved by their friends.

In this way, one can quite readily imagine how they can train their minds by watching a horror movie in different circumstances. So, whilst watching Paranormal Activity 3 with friends will bring you closer together (presuming you do find the movie scary and the resolution satisfying), watching Paranormal Activity 3 alone will teach you to control your fear by yourself.

There are a million different ways in which to watch movies, and each way results in different psychological effects. I hope this explanation of the difference between watching alone and with friends has illustrated how the circumstances in which you watch horror movies changes the psychological outcome.

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.

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