Study data published in Personality and Individual Differences suggest that psychological resilience during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may be related to engagement with thematically relevant media. In an online survey conducted in early 2020, participants who described an interest in horror movies or pandemic-related fiction displayed more psychological resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trait morbid curiosity was also associated with greater resilience and preparedness.
The investigators recruited US residents to complete a survey on Prolific, an academic research website. Participants were surveyed during the month of April (2020).
The survey asked participants to rate their interest in various film genres, including horror, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, zombie, and alien invasion. The survey also asked participants to rate their interest in pandemic films.
Psychological resilience was captured using a 13-item scale developed by authors, termed the Pandemic Psychological Resilience Scale (PPRS). Participants were instructed to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with each item on a 7-point Likert scale.
Trait Morbid Curiosity was measured using the Morbid Curiosity Scale, a 24-item assessment developed in 2020. An exploratory factor analysis was conducted to identify relationships between psychological resilience, self-reported COVID-19 preparedness, and interest in certain media genres.
The study cohort comprised 310 individuals. Self-reported interest in horror movies was associated with lower psychological distress on the PPRS (P =.006). Specifically, horror fans were less likely to endorse the following statements: “During the pandemic, I have been more depressed than usual”; “Compared to how I usually feel, I have been more nervous and anxious during the pandemic”; “I am more irritable than usual”; and “I haven’t been sleeping well since the pandemic started.”
Fans of “prepper” genres (ie, zombie, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, and alien invasion content) reported feeling significantly more prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic (P =.014) and experienced fewer negative disruptions of their daily routine (P =.030). In analyses that adjusted for age, sex, income, and scores on the Ten Item Personality Measure, prior exposure to pandemic films was associated with self-reported preparedness during the current pandemic (P =.003). Specifically, those with prior viewing of pandemic-related films were more likely to report that they “knew early on which items…[to] buy in preparation for a pandemic” and that they felt “mentally prepared” for COVID-19.
Participants with high scores on the Morbid Curiosity Scale were more likely to display positive resilience during the pandemic, which was characterized by hopefulness for the future, self-reported confidence in “[getting] through…uncertain times”, and the ability to find meaningful activities during lockdown.
These data underscore the role of media consumption in shaping a worldview. Exposure to certain kinds of fiction appeared to affect individuals’ personal experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, whether direct consumption of certain media is responsible for these associations are unclear. It may be that underlying psychological traits which inspire interest in certain genres are also independently associated with positive resilience and preparedness.
“[T]hese results are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real world situations,” the authors wrote.
Scrivner C, Johnson JA, Kjeldgaard-Christiansen J, Clasen M. Pandemic practice: Horror fans and morbidly curious individuals are more psychologically resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic [published online September 15, 2020]. Pers Individ Dif. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2020.110397