Developmental Differences in Responses to Horror
Joanne Cantor University of Wisconsin, Madison
Mary Beth Oliver Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
When I was about eight years old I watched a film . . . about a little doll that comes alive and terrorizes the owner. Many of the actions of the doll seemed real to me. This was particularly scary because my parents had just returned from Mexico and had brought me a doll that I thought looked just like the crazy doll in the film. For months after watching the film I could hardly sleep and I would definitely remove the doll from my bedroom when I wanted to sleep. . . . Eventually my parents took it away so I could feel safer and more relaxed in my room. (College Student)1
Almost everyone seems to be able to remember an occasion in their childhood when an especially terrifying mass media portrayal took hold of their consciousness and left them frightened, shaken, and troubled for a considerable period of time. Many researchers have reported that such enduring fright reactions, which often involve sleep disturbances and nightmares, are not at all uncommon ( Blumer, 1933; Cantor & Reilly, 1982; Eisenberg, 1936; Hess & Goldman, 1962; Himmelwcit, Oppcnheim, & Vince, 1958; Johnson, 1980; Palmer, Hockett, & Dean, 1983; Preston, 1941).
Although, for ethical reasons, children's responses to the horror genre per se have rarely been investigated directly, a considerable amount of research and theoretical speculation has been conducted on fright reactions to media presentations in general and on children's fright reactions to media fiction specifically. Much of this research is applicable to the question of how children____________________