Adolescents’Motivations for Viewing Graphic Horror



    1. Deirdre D. Johnston (Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1988) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.
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  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 1990 meeting of the Speech Communication Association (Mass Communication Division), Chicago. My appreciation is extended to James R. Dumerauf, MD, for contributions on an earlier version of this study, and to Howard Giles and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.


This study identifies four motivations adolescents report for viewing graphic horror films: gore watching, thrill watching, independent watching, and problem watching. On the basis of a uses and gratifications model of media effects, it is argued that viewing motivations are predictors of responses to graphic horror. This study also seeks to extend Zillmann's excitation-transfer model of media effects to predict under what conditions viewing-generated arousal is transferred to positive or negative affect. The dispositional characteristics of fearfulness, empathy, and sensation seeking are found to be related to different viewing motivations, providing a viewing-related personality profile for the four different types of adolescent viewers. The four viewing motivations are found to be related to viewers’cognitive and affective responses to horror films, as well as viewers’tendency to identify with either the killers or victims in these films. Directions for future research addressing the role of viewing motivations in the relationship between violent media, cognitive and affective responses, and subsequent behavioral aggression are discussed.