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October 8, 2013

Halloween monsters, scares on TV are year-round fare

Glenn Sparks

Glenn Sparks 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The spooks and gore of Halloween are now daily storylines on favorite television shows as they take over pop culture, says a Purdue University mass media expert. 

"Vampires, zombies, witches and other demonic horrors that were once watched just at Halloween are now part of viewers' regular programming, especially as the special effects make these storylines more realistic and their entertainment value increases," says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication who studies media effects and belief in the paranormal. "While they may be fun to watch, even for families, the increasing amounts of exposure to the supernatural or horror elements can affect people in negative ways.

"The amount of supernatural and horror options consumers can watch today on TV is unprecedented, and children are growing up in a world where these programs are common. How much we watch and what we believe is something we need to keep in mind."

Some of these popular shows include "The Walking Dead," "American Horror Story," "Supernatural" and "The Vampire Diaries," and the upcoming "Witches of East End."

Realistic portrayals of supernatural characters and events can be emotionally upsetting for people who can't sort out fact from fiction and can also influence people's belief in the paranormal, says Sparks, who has studied how television shows influence people's beliefs in the paranormal.

He also has studied the effects of scary films and TV images on adults and children by measuring their emotional reactions - including their physiological responses like heart rate and blood pressure.

"Some may say they enjoy a good scare, but it's really not the scare that people enjoy as much as the relief when the moment is over and the feeling they have conquered the experience; the adrenaline rush from fear can intensify the enjoyment afterwards," Sparks says. "And some terrifying images or moments can linger with people and disrupt their sleep or make them feel anxious."

Sparks says this is especially true for teenagers and children.

"Older children in the ranges of 9-11 are able to distinguish between reality and fantasy but they are still really vulnerable because many of these images are presented as if they're real," he says. "A child may seem OK watching a show, but it's the aftereffects that can leave them disturbed. Even teenagers' belief systems are still forming, so parents should be involved in regulating the media diet and talk to their children about what they are watching." 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu 

Source: Glenn Sparks, gsparks@purdue.edu 

Related websites:

College of Liberal Arts

Brian Lamb School of Communication