A Model of Empathy and Emotional Reactions to Horror
The capacity of film to generate strong reactions in audience members has been a mystery to philosophers and psychologists engaged in the study of emotional behavior (cf. Walters, 1989). The difficulty in explaining emotions evoked by imagined events stems from the fact that viewers react while knowing full well that they are safe from any consequence that might befall the characters on screen. In the absence of any consequence, one wonders not only why viewers should respond with great intensity, but why they should respond at all. Nevertheless, the intense reaction produced by film exposure is of particular interest to those concerned with emotional response. Of particular interest here are the characteristics of a film genre that elicit the greatest emotional response. In this regard, perhaps no other film genre inspires reactions as intense as those produced by graphic horror. This chapter develops a model of empathy and emotional reactions to horror in an attempt to explicate processes by which these aesthetic emotions are elicited by imaginative involvement with environments created by film. The model applies cognitive-motivationalrelational theory to the aesthetic emotion phenomenon by employing empathy and situational cues provided by film as the antecedent conditions of personality and environment found in the theory by Lazarus (1991).