Evolution, Cognition, and Horror

A Précis of Why Horror Seduces (2017)


  • Mathias Clasen Aarhus University




Evolutionary Literary Studies, Literary Darwinism, Film Studies, Horror, Cognitive Science


Why are people attracted to scary entertainment, to stories and leisure activities designed to evoke negative emotion? How does such entertainment work, and why does it work? Why do we respond with genuine fear to flickering light on a screen? Why do our stories brim with danger and horror and monsters, sometimes far-fetched and utterly implausible monsters? The culmination of that research, so far, is my 2017 monograph Why Horror Seduces. In this article, I will introduce that work, which is the first book-length study of horror from an evolutionary perspective. After a brief introduction to the subject matter, I explain the main theoretical assumptions of the book. I then give a few examples of evolutionary horror theory in analytical and interpretative practice and offer some considerations on the adaptive function of horror. Finally, I reflect on the challenges and benefits of interdisciplinary work and point the way toward future studies. 

Author Biography

Mathias Clasen, Aarhus University

Mathias Clasen is Associate Professor of Literature and Media in the English Department at Aarhus University, Denmark, and Associate Editor of the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture. His research focuses on horror entertainment from a biocultural perspective.


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How to Cite

Clasen, M. (2019). Evolution, Cognition, and Horror: A Précis of Why Horror Seduces (2017). Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 4(2), 242–256. https://doi.org/10.1558/jch.37083