A Model of Empathy and Emotional Reactions to Horror
Ron Tamborini Michigan State Univeristy
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).
The perplexing nature of audience reactions to film and to other forms of media entertainment has led some to claim that aesthetic emotional reactions are not real emotions at all, but simply memories of previous experiences that have been activated by observed events ( Binkley, 1977; Gombrich, 1962). Other scholars accept these reactions as real emotions, but claim that they are irrational ( Rorty, 1978), incoherent ( Radford, 1975), or in some way distinct