Why You Should Never Trust a Man who Likes Horror Movies

There’s a reason why so many first-dates involve a trip to the multiplex to see the latest horror movie. Not only do the scares provide an excellent excuse for jumping into your beloved’s arms, but they also give you a chance to appraise their emotional responsiveness. Research has shown that women prefer men who are able to maintain emotional equanimity in the face of fearsome stimuli, and what better way for a man to advertise his bravery than by remaining stony faced while Freddy Kruger slices a gaggle of promiscuous teenagers into quivering mincemeat?

Of course, if women prefer a man to exhibit certain emotional responses, the pressure is on for men to conceal emotions women don’t like and, conversely, to fake feelings that’ll secure that second date.

Dina Dosmukhambetova and Antony Manstead of Cardiff University recruited 70 men for an ingenious study of concealed and faked emotional expression. The men were seated in front of a computer and a video camera, and a researcher told them that the experiment involved watching some short films while their faces were videotaped. Sounds fairly straightforward, but this is where it gets complicated, because it’s at this point that the researcher stopped telling the truth.

She explained that she was busy and had to leave the lab, but her research assistant was in a nearby office and would be monitoring the man via the video camera. The researcher then gave him a consent form to sign, that would give the absent research assistant permission to process his data. Printed on the form was a photograph of the female research assistant. The man was told that, since research had suggested that some people are uncomfortable having their data analysed by someone they know, it was necessary to include a photo of the research assistant on the form so that the participant could be sure he didn’t know her.

In reality, the story about the research assistant in the other room was a fabrication, and was intended only to make the participant think that he was being watched by the person whose photograph he had seen on the consent form. Half of the men were given a version of the form with the picture of a very attractive woman on it, and the remaining half were given a second version of the form with the picture of a women who was about average in attractiveness.

The researcher left the lab, and the men watched two movie clips. One was a scene from the 2007 horror film “1408”, which stars John Cusack as a guest at the world’s most terrifying hotel. I saw 1408 at the cinema and I can attest that it’s a pretty scary movie, although perhaps the most frightening thing about it is Cusack’s horrible acting.


The second video was a Pampers advert, made up of a montage of sleeping babies. For some men that might sound even scarier than the horror flick.

While the participants watched these two video clips, their faces were recorded. Later analysis of their facial expressions showed that men who thought they were being watched by an attractive research assistant frowned less during the horror clip than men who thought it was an unattractive research assistant on the other end of the camera.

But it’s not simply the case that men who think they’re being evaluated by a hottie are less emotionally expressive, because men in the attractive group also smiled more while watching the Pampers advert than men in the unattractive group. So, when men feel they’re being observed by women they want to impress, they act like they’re braver than they really are, and as though they like babies more than they really do.

It’s probable that men are doing this without even realising it. This might make their deception all the more convincing, because if they’re unaware that they’re performing, they’re less likely to be found out, or to come across as an over expressive, gurning, ham actor.

Dosmukhambetova, D., & Manstead, A. S. R. (2012). Fear attenuated and affection augmented: male self-presentation in a romantic context.Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 36(2), 135–147. Read summary

The content of this post first appeared in the May 2012 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Dr. Robert Burriss’s story.