To explore lingering effects of frightening media, 530 papers written by students over a three-year period (1997–2000) were reviewed. The students could write about their own fright reactions or about a response they had witnessed in another person. Almost all students (93 percent) wrote about their own experiences, and the overwhelming majority (91 percent) described reactions to realistic fiction or fantasy content (depicting impossible events) rather than to the news or a documentary. The ninety-one papers about the four presentations cited most frequently—Jaws, Poltergeist, The Blair Witch Project, and Scream—were content analyzed. Of the papers, 46 percent reported an effect on bedtime behavior (e.g., sleep disturbances) and 75 percent reported effects on waking life (e.g., anxiety in related situations). Among the prominent effects on waking life were difficulty swimming after Jaws (in lakes and pools as well as the ocean); uneasiness around clowns, televisions, and trees after Poltergeist; avoidance of camping and the woods following The Blair Witch Project; and anxiety when home alone after Scream. More than one-third of the papers reported effects continuing to the time of the study. These consequences attest to the enduring power of emotional memory even when the viewer is aware that the response is to a large extent irrational. Possible reasons for these lingering effects are discussed.


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pp. 283-304
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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