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Re: [evol-psych] PLEASURE FROM ARMCHAIR FEAR

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  • Dr. John R. Skoyles
    ... Chimpanzees look at the equivalent of horror movies in the wild as in the following case reported by Christophe Boesch. Tai chimpanzees are hunted by
    Message 1 of 6 , Apr 30 12:00 PM
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      >I would like to ask if anyone in the list is aware of hypoteheses on
      >why so many people (men and women) like to see thriller and suspence
      >movies, knowing that they are going to "suffer" in the cource, sometimes
      >considerably indeed. Are they ( we) mazochists?
      >
      >>NH: Monkeys do it to. See my paper in Nature from many years ago, where I
      >>reported experiments showing that monkeys will work to watch horror movies
      >>even though they simultaneously show signs of fear and distress.

      Chimpanzees look at the equivalent of horror movies in the wild as in the
      following case reported by Christophe Boesch.

      Tai chimpanzees are hunted by leopards -- however, when they get the chance
      they attack and pursue them. On the 6th March 1989, a leopard was seen
      chased by seven chimps. The leopard ended up trapped in a deep and narrow
      hole. 'The leopard roared without interruption, barking loudly whenever it
      tried to strike the chimpanzees with its paw. For the next 42 minutes, they
      settled around the entrance, some grooming, others just sitting or even
      laying on the ground near the entrance. Now and then, females with
      youngsters neared the entrance and took advantage of the rare opportunity
      to have a close and safe look at a leopard. Some regularly threatened the
      animal. Seven times different chimpanzees were seen to take a piece of a
      fallen branch and use it as a club, repeatedly trying to hit or stab the
      leopard in its hole. Each time the leopard barked in response and jumped
      forward out its shelter to hit the hand of the chimpanzee holding the club,
      seemingly unsuccessfully. But before it could try to escape from the hole,
      the noisy reaction of the group, with a minimum of 3 adults rushing towards
      it, forced it back to its refuge. The small entrance hole prevented the
      chimpanzees from taking any effective action and at 14.32 i.e. 2 hours 22
      minutes after the first sighting, they left the site, the leopard silently
      leaving the hole 11 minutes later pp 223-224.

      I like the observation that 'Now and then, females with youngsters neared
      the entrance and took advantage of the rare opportunity to have a close and
      safe look at a leopard'. This is the equivalent of mum and kids looking at
      a horror movie.

      Why? One factor might be learning control of fear. Leopards kill
      chimpanzees but they would kill more if adult chimps did not defend young
      chimps, and if they did not actively chase them. Such defense requires that
      they can handle their fears. Seeing a leopard in the safe circumstances
      described above would give them the experiences needed to do this. They
      would, moreover, learn what leopards looked like in close detail [they are
      stealthy hunters that avoid been seen] and how they moved -- important
      things for better dealing with them in other situations.

      Boesch, C[histophe]. (1991). The effects of leopard predation on grouping
      patterns in forest chimpanzees. Behaviour, 117, 220-241.
      Dr. John R. Skoyles
      6 Denning Rd,
      Hampstead, NW3 1SU
      London, UK

      In the autumn, I will be at the London School of Economics, Centre for
      Philosophy of Natural and Social Science.

      Check out my Golden House-Sparrow award winning homepage
      http://www.skoyles.greatxscape.net/
    • J Keeran
      The behavior would seem to have survival benefits in that observing a destructive scene would provide the following: a.) recognition or reinforcement of the
      Message 2 of 6 , May 1, 2000
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        The behavior would seem to have survival benefits in that "observing" a
        destructive scene would provide the following:
        a.) recognition or reinforcement of the danger (recognition of a another
        animal as a predator or realizing the danger of fire or flood) as well as
        recognition or reinforcement of the severity of the danger (which helps the
        animal assess and prioritize dangers effectively)
        b.) if the victimized animal escapes, it provides a blueprint to follow
        should the observing animal suffer the same endangerment

        A third factor may also be at play. Given that Solomon's Opponent-Process
        theory is true, then endangerment (whether real or empathized, as with a
        spectator) will have a reciprocal "recoil" of positive emotion after the
        endangerment ceases. Thus, knowing that participating vicariously in a
        "horror" show will produce a reciprocal laugh or other emotional release may
        induce some people to watch. This "recoil" would also be involved in sports
        and other competitive activities where some risk is involved.

        I suggest that the risk puts the organism in an energy conservation mode
        with energy/resources being restrained from the parasympathetic nervous
        system (thus, conserving resources) and redirecting those conserved
        resources to the sympathetic nervous system to prepare for "fight or flight"
        (stress). This maximizes energy resources for "fight or flight".
        (Actually, this may be a variable flow mechanism where energy is
        diverted/redirected based upon the degree of danger perceived. Higher
        dangers causes more severe diversion. Lower dangers cause minor flow changes.)

        Once the danger has passed, the organism's resources can return to a
        balanced flow to all systems (a pleasant feeling). The tendency for any
        euphoria would imply a temporary increase in the energy flow through the
        systems supported by the parasympathetic nervous system. This would be a
        recuperative measure by the organism after temporarily sacrificing those
        systems during stress.

        John K.


        At 03:53 PM 4/29/00 +0100, you wrote:
        >
        >I would like to ask if anyone in the list is aware of hypoteheses on
        >why so many people (men and women) like to see thriller and suspence
        >movies, knowing that they are going to "suffer" in the cource, sometimes
        >considerably indeed. Are they ( we) mazochists?
      • Valerie Stansfield
        Good question! I agree with the responses concerning emotional motivations. I d also like to refer you to the scene in The Sixth Sense where the boy asks the
        Message 3 of 6 , May 2, 2000
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          Good question! I agree with the responses concerning emotional
          motivations. I'd also like to refer you to the scene in The Sixth Sense
          where the boy asks the doctor if he's ever felt the hairs stand up all
          over his body. This can be a powerful sensation which is sought for the
          thrill value of fullbody hair-raising. I felt it whan I was watching
          that movie. The brain may react to certain types of threats this way as
          a preparation for action, even if another part of the brain knows it is
          not real. I think this is definitely something that attracts teenagers.

          Valerie Stansfield
          Los Angeles
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