ZOMBIE-NATOR: David Morrissey slips into the cunning and ruthless shoes of The Governor in the third instalment of The Walking Dead.
ZOMBIE-NATOR: David Morrissey slips into the cunning and ruthless shoes of The Governor in the third instalment of The Walking Dead.

Surviving the Covid-19 horror

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Jan 16, 2021

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Johannesburg - There is a new breed of survivalist out there.

He doesn’t have a ripped Bear Grylls physique, and he is more likely to finish off a pack of crisps than a pig with his bare hands, but he is surviving the fall out of the Covid -19 pandemic better than the rest of us.

All hail the couch potato whose survival skills have been honed from hours and hours of binge watching horror movies.

For some in society, the psychological edge in dealing with Covid-19 might come from screen time a group of researchers now believe.

These horror movies, argue the researchers in a paper they published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, provide a psychological dry run in a “safe setting,” in the living room.

John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State, in the United States with several colleagues, designed a study they believe reveals that people who enjoy horror films could be better prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic as opposed to those who avoid the genre.

"My latest research collaboration was unique in that my colleagues wanted to identify factors beyond personality that contributed to people's psychological preparedness and resilience in the face of the pandemic," Johnson explained in a statement.

"After factoring out personality influences, which were actually quite strong, we found that the more movies about zombies, alien invasions and apocalyptic pandemics people had seen prior to Covid-19, the better they dealt with the actual, current pandemic. These kinds of movies apparently serve as mental rehearsal for actual events.”

The researchers used a sample of 322 participants who participated in the study via a website. They were given a survey that they were asked to complete.

As part of the study, the researchers created the Pandemic Psychological Resilience Scale, where participants were instructed to rate on a seven- point scale whether they strongly disagree to strongly agree to a number of statements. A set of six questions also covered their preparedness for the pandemic.

The subjects then had to indicate to what extent they were fans of horror, zombie, psychological thriller, supernatural films, or if they were more into crime, comedy, and romance movies.

Also involved in the study were two Danish experts on horror, Mathias Clausen and Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen. The two have in the past worked on what attracts people to horror and villains.

The sample was small, but Johnson and his colleagues got a result.

"What we found was that people who watched certain kinds of movies before the pandemic seemed to be helped by them during the pandemic," said Johnson.

The paper provides a reason as to why horror movies might be a survival tool for the apocalypse.

“The widespread chaos that occurs in zombie films is in many ways similar to the widespread chaos that can occur during real-world disasters.” they write in the paper.

“In this way, engaging with imagined worlds through fiction is functionally analogous to various kinds of play. For example, rough-and-tumble play has been hypothesised to have evolved in part because it safely simulates dangerous situations”, they add.

The Stand by Stephen King

For the moment, there is no shortage of horror movies to watch as South Africans ride out the latest lockdown.

On DSTV, there is a series based on The Stand, a novel written by famed horror writer Stephen King. The book and series has unsettling parallels to what is happening around the world at the moment.

In The Stand, a biologically engineered virus called Captain Trips wipes out most of civilisation. Comparisons made between Captains Trips and Covid- 19 on social media, did prompt King recently to fire off a tweet.

“No, coronavirus is NOT like THE STAND. It’s not anywhere near as serious. It’s eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions”, the King of horror wrote.

But embarking on a binge watching session of The Stand and other Zombie movies is probably not going to help much, believes Johnson.

"I'm not sure that watching such movies now would be helpful for our current situation," he said. "However, my understanding of pandemics and other life-challenging events is that similar future challenges are absolutely inevitable.

This reinforces my belief that consuming stories from books, films and maybe even video games is not just an idle pastime, but a way for us to imagine simulated realities that help prepare us for future challenges.”

Saturday Star

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