By John Salak –
The walking dead and all their zombie compatriots may have just saved some lives or at least made the living easier for many over the last year. Academics out of Penn State, in fact, recently reported that fans of fictional post-apocalyptic worlds filled with the brainless dead munching on the living were better prepared than others to handle the blood-curdling demands of 2020’s pandemic crisis.
The benefits go beyond of joy of a simply good scare. John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State, claims watching this kind of movie gave people a deeper emotional reserve that better protected them from Covid-19’s psychological punishment than those who avoided these films.
“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,” Johnson said.
The Penn State researchers began their work in hopes of identifying factors beyond a person’s personality that contributed to “psychological preparedness and resilience in the face of the pandemic.” Horror films certainly contributed to this reserve.
Johnson, however, noted that their research underscored another element regarding the power of information. “To me, this implicates an even more important message about stories in general — whether in books, movies or plays. Stories are not just entertainment, but preparation for life,” he added.
The study’s conclusions were based on an online survey issued to over 300 people, which assessed each individual’s positive and negative resilience as well as their preparedness for the pandemic. Participants were also queried on how much they enjoyed horror, zombie, psychological thriller, supernatural, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, science fiction, alien-invasion, crime, comedy and romance genres in movies and television.
“What we found was that people who watched certain kinds of movies before the pandemic seemed to be helped by them during the pandemic,” Johnson said.
Just how long someone needs to watch these films to build up this type of psychological resilience is hard to determine, meaning that a weekend spent binge-watching the likes of Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn of The Dead, 28 Days Later, Shawn Of the Dead, I Walked With A Zombie, World War Z and The Omega Man probably isn’t going to do much in the short term except create some sleepless nights.
But there is always another crisis looming.
“I’m not sure that watching such movies now would be helpful for our current situation,” Johnson said. “However, my understanding of pandemics and other life-challenging events is that similar future challenges are absolutely inevitable. The past is often forgotten too easily. Who remembered the Spanish flu epidemic until scientists brought up that piece of history during COVID-19? 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.”
So, perhaps more of us should curl up with a good brain-eating, intestine-chewing, muscle-munching movie tonight.