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Emotional Experience Through Horror Films Essay

1539 words - 7 pages

Chris Wiley

11 November 2010

Emotional Experience through the Art of Horror

After watching a particularly scary horror film, one might say that they had an emotional experience; most likely one characterized by fear. Some would say that this experience of fear is not a “real” emotion. In the essay “Fearing Fictionally,” Kendall Walton describes an example in which a person, Charles, watches a movie about a frightening green slime that oozes toward the screen and causes a response in Charles that he describes as terror. Walton argues that the sensation that Charles describes is not actual fear, but “quasi-fear” or as he later describes it, “fictional ...view middle of the document...

In the movie The Descent, a disturbing story about a group of adventurous girls who go exploring an unknown cave only to find demonic looking creatures with a taste for human flesh, one would never deny that they had a response to events that occurred in the movie. If you asked them what type of response it was, no one would ever respond by saying that it was logic that caused them to jump backward in their seat with horror. Surely they would respond by saying they were frightened and that it was a purely emotional response that was out of their control. This inability to control what is felt is a key characteristic of emotion. Whether the stimulus that causes the response comes from a movie or an actual event does not change this experience that is the emotional process.

Logical processes are much different in nature and account for decision-making and how we alter behavior in response to stimuli. The stimulus may even be an emotion, but thought processes in the logical realm are separate from emotion by definition. It is classic pathos vs. logos. A philosopher would never say that a pathos appeal is the same as one that is logos in nature. The distinction Walton makes between real and quasi-fear is really not a distinction between real and fictional emotion, it is a distinction between ways we react logically to the emotional stimulus based on what the stimulus is. When watching The Descent, very strong emotions are felt that are indistinguishable in character to emotions experienced from an actual encounter with such a beast. What is different is the logical process that intervenes shortly after, telling us not to run the opposite direction since it is just a movie. Since the emotional process is exactly the same before the logical process comes into play, we cannot rightfully distinguish any two emotions as being real or not real.

One of Walton’s reasons that Charles’ fear is not real is that it lacks a “motivating force.” Walton asserts that; “Fear is motivating in distinctive ways” and “It puts pressure on ones behavior.” He concludes by saying that, “Fear emasculated by subtracting its distinctive motivational force is not fear at all”(Walton 261-262). This cannot be true if we assume that fear is an emotional process. Regardless of it motivating a change in behavior, it still includes the exact same neurological components of the emotion fear. Once the emotion is felt, logical processes assimilate all the aspects of the emotion and relate them to the specific situation. At this point one may decide whether a change in behavior is appropriate or not. The behavioral change is separate from the feeling of emotion itself. Motivating force is not necessary to define fear. As Joseph LeDoux, professor of neuroscience and psychology the Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety based at New York University says,

"Fear is the response to the immediate stimuli. The empty feeling in...

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