“We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes”: Horror Films and Personality Type
A shadowy figure throwing back a shower curtain and raising a knife. A masked maniac advancing with a chainsaw. A long-haired ghost girl crawling out of a well, crawling out of your very screen…
Oh, the horror! Why do some of us scream and cover our eyes at moments like these while others eagerly anticipate the killer’s next move?
Horror films are designed to unsettle us, to evoke our deepest fears and provoke our most primal instincts. And there may be no other genre of film as divisive. Whether it’s the adrenaline rush, the glimpse into an alternate reality, or simply the two hours of pure escapism, many people can’t get enough of scary movies. Many others, however, don’t want to entertain such terrifying images and notions for even one minute.
Could this preference be related to our personality traits? When we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You do not like horror movies,” we found that, overall, the response was fairly neutral, with just 55% agreeing. But there are certainly some personality types who have stronger opinions about scary movies, and the difference seems to relate to our Energy aspect more than any other.
Which personalities love horror, and which loathe it? Let’s probe the data below, starting with those who find the macabre most appealing.
Analysts (49% agreeing)
Analyst personality types agreed with our statement the least, meaning that, as a group, they are the most interested in horror films – although with slightly less than half agreeing, this Role is actually quite neutral on the topic. In general, though, Analysts’ combination of Intuitive Energy and Thinking Nature is ideal for enjoying scary movies. Intuitive personality types love to look for hidden meaning and tend to let their imagination run wild, and horror films stimulate those impulses in a way no other genre can. Analysts’ inherent problem-solving mind-set can’t help but engage in unraveling the identity of a murderer or the dark secrets of a haunted house.
The cool, detached nature of Analyst personalities also makes them well-equipped to enjoy horror films, as their Thinking trait may enable them to experience the violence, gore, or other thrills and chills more objectively than others might, especially those with the Feeling trait. In fact, Thinking personality types (51%) were 6% less likely than Feeling types (57%) to agree that they dislike horror movies. Interestingly, since Analysts often struggle to get in touch with or express their emotions, the extreme way in which horror provokes one of our most primal emotions – fear – may provide them with a release, a sense of emotional catharsis that they are missing in their day-to-day lives.
Many Analysts seek out scary movies in order to have this experience – but many others, who don’t appreciate having their emotions manipulated by movies, may choose to avoid them. And as much as solving a mystery may appeal to Analysts, these personality types can also get frustrated with the illogical plot points, dim-witted characters, and predictable nature of many horror flicks. Analysts are probably the first ones to start shouting, “Don’t go in there!” and chiding the characters for failing to recognize that the door they’ve just opened clearly leads to their doom.
Debaters (ENTP) (45%) were the least likely of all personality types to agree with the statement, “You do not like horror movies.” The same objective quality that allows Debaters to step “outside” of an argument to craft a dispassionate defense may be what allows so many of them to enjoy the horror genre. Characters in these films usually face impossible odds and unfathomable situations and must defeat them with only their wits and ingenuity – two personal qualities that Debaters highly value. Debater personalities also love exploring possibilities and testing limits, which is exactly what horror films do, taking viewers beyond the boundaries of social, physical, or human norms to look inside the world of the socially deviant, the mentally insane, or the supernaturally evil.
Consider the Joker character from the Batman franchise, a Debater personality type who is worthy of the horror genre, despite existing in a superhero story. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, attempts to explain that the Joker is so dangerous because he’s not motivated by logical things like money or power; as he puts it, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” In a way, we’re satisfying a similar desire when we watch horror movies, except with the reassurance that we’re viewing shocking things from a safe distance, and that it’s only a fictional story.
Diplomats, like Analysts, are Intuitive personality types who are bound to find that horror movies get their imaginations going, reliving the scariest scenes or picturing even worse scenarios, continuing the story long after the credits have rolled. But Diplomats are less likely than Analysts to enjoy this, which is largely because of their Feeling trait.
Feeling types are empathetic to the core, so it’s hard for them to participate in a spookfest without putting themselves in the place of the characters, imagining just how terrifying it would be to experience what they’re going through. Diplomat personality types are particularly averse to any sort of conflict, and as in touch with their emotions as they are, fear and stress may not be feelings that they care to call up. So while many Diplomats do like the imaginative exploits of scary movies, a slight majority do not, and horror films may be a dubious pleasure at best for this Role.
We sometimes think of Explorer personality types as adrenaline junkies, so it might seem surprising that more Explorers dislike horror movies than like them. Their Prospecting trait does make them flexible and spontaneous, so they might have more fun with the jump scares and other surprises of a scary movie than, say, a Sentinel would. These personalities also tend to feel at home in crisis situations (and the protagonist of any horror film is definitely having a crisis) and to be more open to risk-taking, so those aspects of scary movies might appeal to them.
Even so, Explorer personality types usually value hands-on experiences more than they do fictional ones, so many would rather be out having their own adventure than watching movie characters having a twisted, terrifying one. They’re especially likely to lose patience with a film that features an overly predictable plot or a totally implausible one, because of their down-to-earth Observant Energy.
Indeed, personality types with the Observant trait (60%) were 8% more likely than Intuitive types (52%) to be averse to horror movies. The Judging trait (58%) also correlated with higher agreement, and the Observant and Judging traits are at the heart of Sentinels’ personalities. As grounded and practical as they are, Sentinels probably find it difficult to muster the suspension of disbelief necessary to fully immerse themselves in a horror movie. They prefer predictability and closure to suspense and mystery and are unlikely to let their imagination get carried away, so those particular aims of horror films don’t really interest them. Sentinels are probably the first ones in the audience to say, “That would never happen.”
Perhaps the most compelling reason why most Sentinels dislike scary movies is the fact that these personality types are generally committed to law, order, and societal norms, and horror films present an alternate reality that is simply unacceptable to them. The actions of an antagonist in a horror film, whether they’re based in violence, perversion, insanity, or something else, are probably going to be the most offensive and disturbing to Sentinels, because they fly in the face of their most deeply held values—and for most Sentinels, there’s just no fun in that.
Of all the personality types, Defenders (ISFJ) (66%) indicated that they dislike horror films the most. Defenders are born protectors, and they don’t like to see people in distress, even if it is just happening in a work of fiction. These personalities may become personally invested in the characters, picturing them as their own friends or family and finding it far too troubling to watch helplessly as people are maimed and murdered.
People Mastery, Social Engagement, Constant Improvement, Confident Individualism (53%, 54%, 57%, and 58% agreeing)
Compared to Roles, Strategies seem to have an all but negligible influence on our opinions regarding horror films. Extraverted personalities (54%) were 3% less likely than Introverts (57%) to agree, which makes sense since Extraverts are more excited by external factors like stimulating sights and sounds, which horror movies have in spades. There was virtually no difference between the responses of Assertive and Turbulent personality types, which is interesting, since Turbulent types are much more susceptible to stress and strong emotions. Perhaps the Identity aspect doesn’t influence our affinity for scary movies because we are not the ones at risk; after all, it’s not our own abilities and decision-making that are being put to the test, but the characters’.
Fear is not just an emotion but also a biological response, and horror movies intend to provoke us in both ways, to make us wonder what it would feel like to experience a truly horrific situation while at the same time assessing the threat and figuring out how we would survive. For some of us, especially those with the Intuitive, Thinking, and Prospecting personality traits, this sort of heightened, adrenaline-fueled experience can be almost addictive, something we want to experience again and again. But for others, one scary movie is one too many.
Still, the overall neutral responses of most personality types indicate that it can be hard to pin down our opinion of the horror genre as a whole – it might depend a great deal on our individual preferences and even on the nature of a specific film. A Sentinel might be able to delight in a classic psychological thriller à la Alfred Hitchcock but be revolted by the nightmarish, gory slashers of today. An Analyst personality might adore flesh-eating zombies but draw the line at killer clowns. In other words, maybe we all like to feel at least a little scared sometimes.
Do horror movies make you want to reach for a bucket of popcorn, or run screaming for the door? Let us know in the comments!