The Relationship Between Distress and Delight in Males’ and Females’ Reactions to Frightening Films



    1. Glenn G. Sparks is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Purdue University. The author thanks Melissa M. Spirek for her role as an experimenter and Dan Wilcox for writing a computer program that transforms physiological data for mainframe processing. Thanks are also due Cheri W. Sparks and Robert M. Ogles for their helpful comments on this article.
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Data from Zillmann, Weaver, Mundorf, and Aust's 1986 study suggested that when males viewed a horror film, their levels of reported distress were correlated with levels of enjoyment or delight. For females, distress and delight were not related. Zillmann et al. interpreted these findings in the context of gender role socialization and excitation transfer theory. One limitation of the Zillmann et al. study is that only one film stimulus was used, which raises a question about the generalizability of the pattern of reported sex differences. In addition, no physiological measures of emotional response were reported. In the present research, secondary analyses from two studies were conducted that showed that the pattern of sex differences reported by Zillmann et al. did generalize to other film stimuli. Moreover, results from physiological responses indicated the plausibility of the excitation transfer process.