Halloween dating: The science behind horror movie dates

Posted by Dr Claire Hill on 26th October 2022

Sitting in a darkened room watching a masked tall figure hack off the arms of a helpless young hitchhiker in a dark, abandoned old house to the backdrop of haunting music might not be everyone's idea of a romantic night. However, with Halloween fast approaching, heading to the cinema to snuggle up and watch the latest scary movie together could be top of the date night list. The gory truth is that horror is popular – the 2017 remake of Stephen King's "IT" was the most successful horror film of all time raking in a massive $700.4m in global ticket sales, making it the seventh most successful box office release that year1.

Spooky halloween pumpkins

Credit: unsplash.com/@freestocks

Horror is the only fictional genre created specifically to make you feel scared the whole way through. And they are pretty good at achieving this, as research shows our bodies do indeed react in an anxious way whilst watching horror films. For example it makes you have a faster heartbeat, tremble, heave, scream, shield your eyes, and can genuinely make the hairs on your body stand on end! These effects don't just stay in the cinema either, as nearly half experience disturbed sleep and 75% experience anxiety after watching horror2. Sounds like a great date right?

So what does it say about your date if they suggest going to watch a horror film this Halloween? Research has shown that those who enjoy and want to watch horror tend to be more sensation seeking and have lower empathy and fearfulness3. Interestingly, men enjoy and seek out horror more so than women do and they find it less scary4. It has been suggested that this may be because women tend to feel more compassion and concern towards seeing someone in need (more "empathetic concern") as well as typically finding things more repulsive - what's known as a higher disgust sensitivity5 - and are more prone to anxiety6.

But what will you come to make of that date if you do head out to watch the latest horror release this halloween? Research has shown that the answer to this depends on whether you are a man or a woman7. When heterosexual couples were asked to think back to a date they had when they watched a horror film, men had about twice as many positive reactions such as laughing, feeling amused and being entertained by the film compared to women. On the other hand, women had around twice as many negative reactions such as yelling, screaming, crying, faster heartbeat, shaking, feeling jumpy, feeling disgusted, hiding their eyes or looking away, as well as sleep problems afterwards such as being scared to sleep alone, nightmares and needing to sleep with the light on. Intriguingly, over five times the number of men compared to women said they felt sexually turned on whilst watching horror. It would appear that men and women together on a date watching a horror film have a completely different experience of that date. And what's more, this kind of date encouraged gender-stereotypes to play out, as men said they acted fearlessly in front of their date whilst women showed how scared they were and wanted their date to protect them. Indeed, other studies have found that women actually prefer it if their male date shows they aren't scared whilst watching a horror film8.

Maybe reading this has spooked you out? Or perhaps you cannot wait to have a spooktacular date at the cinema. Whatever you get up to with your date this halloween you're sure to have a frightfully good time because you'll be with your "boo!".


  1. https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/It-(2017)
  2. Cantor, J. (2004). "I'll never have a clown in my house"—Why movie horror lives on. Poetics Today 25, 283–304. doi: 10.1215/03335372-25-2-283. https://read.dukeupress.edu/poetics-today/article-abstract/25/2/283/20819/I-ll-Never-Have-a-Clown-in-My-House-Why-Movie
  3. Martin, G. N. (2019). (Why) do you like scary movies? A review of the empirical research on psychological responses to horror films. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2298. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02298/full
  4. Clasen, M., Christiansen, J. K., & Johnson, J. A. (2019). Horror, personality, and threat simulation. Evol. Behav. Sci, 17-18.
  5. Connolly, K. M., Olatunji, B. O., & Lohr, J. M. (2008). Evidence for disgust sensitivity mediating the sex differences found in blood-injection-injury phobia and spider phobia. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(4), 898-908. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886907003790
  6. McLean, C. P., & Anderson, E. R. (2009). Brave men and timid women? A review of the gender differences in fear and anxiety. Clinical psychology review, 29(6), 496-505. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735809000671
  7. Harris, R. J., Hoekstra, S. J., Scott, C. L., Sanborn, F. W., Karafa, J. A., & Brandenburg, J. D. (2000). Young men's and women's different autobiographical memories of the experience of seeing frightening movies on a date. Media Psychology, 2(3), 245-268.
  8. Zillmann, D., Weaver, J. B., Mundorf, N., & Aust, C. F. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion's affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3), 586. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1987-01071-001