I must specify by Psychological Thrillers, I also include the suspense, horror, disturbing and fucked up stuff we enjoy reading or watching. Since the definition of each genre is totally subjective in my opinion, someone might consider a book horror and I didn’t even flinch while reading it or vice versa.
What is it about thrillers, suspense, dark twisted stories that attract us? How can we be fascinated by psychopaths, cruelty and evil? I’ve been wondering these questions as I look at my “Fucked Up” bookshelves row where House of Leaves, Chuck Palahniuks’ Books, the Hannibal series and The Alienist stand there. After spending 24 hours digging for scientific reasons, verify the sources (you can never be too critical), vulgarize and organize the information, I end up finding 4 main possible factors that may explain why we love the thrill feeling :
EXCITATION TRANSFER THEORY
Published by Zillman in the early 1970s, the theory stipulates that the residual excitation from one stimulus can be transferred to influence behavior related to another stimulus.
“Residual excitation from essentially any excited emotional reaction is capable of intensifying any other excited emotional reaction.”
Zillmann, D. (2006). Dramaturgy for emotions from fictional narration. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp. 215-238). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
What does this mean for reading/watching thrillers?
Take a book describing a scene where the protagonist discovers slowly that she’s been standing not in a basement but in a psychopath’s lair : a drop of blood starts dripping, the instruments displayed on the table… These little sensations where the author builds up the tension contribute to our excitement, and when the book finishes, all these excitements will add up.
The moment we finally close that book and go to bed, this is where the residual emotional reaction kicks in, transferred to enhance other emotions afterwards, make it look like what we just read becomes more striking and vivid.
A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT
How many times do you hear someone saying they love watching psychopaths show and serial killers documentary? Way too often. That is because we get to experience fear and anticipation through a medium, a medium we can turn off whenever we want, or close the book or even know that it’s not completely happening to us right know. But I bet, if giving the chance, no one would want to be at the same place as the characters. In fact, this control environment allows us to escape our daily quiet routine and spice it up with some suspense. In fact, the rare people I know who work directly with criminals are the ones who avoid these kind of stories and retreat to softer and lighter ones.
THE PLOT TWISTS
What I noticed in the psychological thrillers genres are they often finish beautifully with a plot twist. The surprise element is one thing but what is very satisfying is the intellectual challenge itself. It makes us realize that we have been tricked by the author all along and appreciate the set-up he/she has built to make it happen. So when looking back at the clues, we appreciate them more for their subtlety and quality.
Everyone has a dark side. Thinking thoughts we’d rather not have. You know what they are and I don’t even need to mention examples. Those forbidden thoughts convey curiosity and fascination for the unknown. The what ifs of a situation where we will be free from the social norms and rules. Watching murder series or reading about taboo subjects are channeling the release those inner impulses, which prevent us to not act on those thoughts.
See also : Why I love Villains
There were so many other concepts I wanted to explore here. I hesitated in bringing science onto this blog but I find it more interesting to share what I learned while combining with my bookish hobby.
Do you like this kind of post format? 😀 Let me know in the little survey if you are interested in these future topics or leave your thoughts in the comments section !