An Activation-Arousal Analysis of Reactions to Horror
Glenn G. Sparks Purdue University
The last 20 years of research in psychology and communication have produced a burgeoning literature on human emotions. This increase in research activity has provided fertile soil for those scholars studying the emotional responses that occur in the general context of mass-mediated messages and, more specifically, in the context of frightening, horrific, and suspenseful entertainment. However, the studies on reactions to horror often reflect a diverse array of theoretical approaches to emotion processes. Moreover, the underlying theoretical assumptions about emotion are specified only occasionally in this recent literature.
This state of affairs is not surprising given that the general study of emotion could still be characterized by theoretical chaos (see Mandler, 1984; Strongman, 1987). Strongman's ( 1987) recent text provides overviews of over 30 different theories. The similarities and differences between alternative approaches are sometimes subtle and unclear. Given the wide array of theoretical options within the emotion literature, researchers working on issues related to emotional responses to mass-mediated messages would be well advised to become more deliberate about articulating their theoretical assumptions. Such articulation will foster comparison among approaches and stimulate specific questions for further research.
With these priorities in mind, the first section of this chapter attempts to sketch a general theoretical approach to the study of emotions. I call this general approach the innate or dispositional view, although there are other related terms that frequently arise in characterizing this perspective, including personality, genetic, temperamental, or individual difference stances. After consideration of the evidence in favor of the dispositional approach, the chapter briefly reviews Tucker and Williamson's ( 1984) activation-arousal framework as a specific example of a dispositional perspective on emotion. Finally, the