Bird Box’s Success and How Humans Evolved to Love Horror

Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson in Bird Box.

Bird Box is the first breakout film of the new year. The post-apocalyptic thriller was watched by more than 26 million people over its first week on Netfilx, a record for the streaming service.

It comes on the heels of last year’s A Quiet Place, which was one of the top-grossing films of 2018.

Movies such as these have a single mission: To terrify their viewers. But why do so many people choose to spend two hours in perpetual fear?

New research provides a clear answer: We are evolutionarily wired to seek out such material. A research team led by Mathias Clasen of Denmark’s Aarhus University argues horror movies, novels, and video games fall into the category of “benign masochism.”

“Horror movies tend to imaginatively transport consumers into fictional universes that brim with dangers,” the researchers write. “Through such imaginative absorption, people get to experience strong, predominantly negative emotions within a safe context. This experience serves as a way of preparing for real-world threat situations.”

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