Cognitive Appraisal

Another emotional theory is by pyschologist Richard Lazaru, called cognitive appraisal.

His research shows that people’s experience of emotion depends on the way they appraise or evaluate the events around them.

A key example he uses is :

“If Tracy is driving on a winding road by the edge of a high cliff, she may be concerned about the danger of the road. Her passenger, on the other hand, thinks about the beauty of the view. Tracy will probably feel frightened, while her passenger may feel exhilarated.”


The Allure of Horror + How I Plan To Terrify

Psychologist Dr. Glenn D.Walters identifies primary factors of the horror film allure.

Tension – created through mystery, suspense, gore, terror or shock… all of these being straightforward elements of horror film making.

As I am not focusing on a stereotypical horror monster that can create terror and gore, I am going to have to rely on suspense and mystery when it comes to creating my own short horror film. This is going to be done by taking inspiration from films such as ‘The Strangers’ (which can be seen here) and using elements that I have learnt from the movie such as jump scares and creating the illusion of something happening when nothing exciting is actually happening.

Relevance – Dr Walters argues that for a horror video to be seen it has to be relevant to potential viewers.

Relevance can take the form of universal relevance , capturing the universal fear of death and the unknown.

It can also take the form of cultural relevance, for example dealing with societal issues.

Personal relevance takes the form of audience being able to identify with the protagonist.

Relevance is key to my horror film as it is what is going to help my audience relate and really connect with the piece of video. The more enthralled and engaged my audience are, the more likely they are to become scared. I am planning on connecting universal relevance  and personal relevance to my horror video as I believe they are the most effective forms of relevance.

I will create universal relevance by capturing the unknown through the figure that is haunting my protagonist. It will make them ask questions  such as “who is that?” and “are they going to hurt someone?”. It has been proven that ‘fear of the unknown’ is what drives audience the most when it  comes to watching horror movies. In an article by SCREENCRAFT (which can be seen here), the writer talks about how “it’s what you don’t see that will scare you the most”. They use Jaws as a key example. Through the  use of the iconic music score that represents the movement of the shark, fear was created throughout the audience without them physically seeing the monster.


Filmmaker IQ. 2014. FilmMakerIQ. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 2nd April 2016].

Ken Miyamoto. 2015. ScreenCraft. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 4th April 2016].


‘Compassion Fatigue’ – S Cottle Theory

The theory of ‘compassion fatigue’ formed  by Simon Cottle is based around the ideas that audiences become fatigued and immune to images that they see through the media on a continuous basis.

An example of this would be the images that are used in many charity television advertisements such as Oxfam and UNICEF.  The images used by these charities are very shocking, normally focusing on ill nourished children who have a shocking appearance due to the living conditions they are having to endure. The shocking images appear so much on our screens nowadays that audiences become fatigued by them which leads to them becoming less shocking and a sense of ‘normality’.The Save The Children advert that was my initial inspiration is also another advert that can be linked to compassion fatigue.

Simon Cottle argues that “audiences have become inured to the moral compulsion of such images and our capacity for compassion has become overwhelmed or ‘fatigued’ by their constant circulation in the media” (S.Cottle 2009:128).

This theory means that to create emotion within my audiences I am not going to be able to focus on the imagery alone. I want audiences to connect to my video pieces so by just focusing on using shocking imagery I would be risking the emotional status of my video and how effective it could be. This means I will  have to experiment further with sound and lighting to see the different impacts they can have on an audience. 

Three Emotional Theories

With my basic concept of wanting to produce a piece of work based around emotion and how audiences react to different emotional factors, I decided to start researching into theories that could relate to my project.

I came across three different theories that based around emotional representation and how emotion is created within an audience.

  1. James-Lange Theory

This theory originated from William James and Carl Lange in the late 1800’s. Even though both theorists developed their initial theories individually, they were quick to discover that they had very similar ideas about audiences and emotion.

Their theory was that “emotion is not directly caused by the perception of an event but rather by the bodily response caused by the event.”

This theory suggests that in order to experience emotion we must first experience a bodily response, for example the function of fast breathing, sweaty palms and a racing heart. Our brain is then designed to link the bodily response to a certain emotion e.g. if you are watching a scary film and a horror scene is being played then your heart will begin to race which your brain will then link to the emotion of fear.

    2. Cannon-Bard Theory

This theory began with a theorist named Walter Cannon and he believed that there was many flaws within the James-Lange theory (Cannon, 1927).

Cannon found that “in certain animals, like cats, emotions occur even if the brain was cut off from the information about bodily responses”.  His main argument was that “the same bodily responses accompany different emotions”, for example a racing heart could signify anger, excitement or fear.

Cannon concluded that our brain cannot just rely on bodily responses to know which emotion we are experiencing, which is where theorist Phillip Bard agreed with his conclusion.

Through Cannon and Bard’s research they created the theory that the “experience of an emotion does not depend on input from the body and how it is responding. Both the experience of the emotion and the bodily response occur at the same time independently of each other.”

    3. Schacter-Singer Theory

The theory of Schacter and Singer  suggests that “experiencing an emotion requires both bodily response and an interpretation of the bodily response by considering the situation that an individual may be in at that precise moment ” (Schacter and Singer, 1962)

For example, if a heart is racing because somebody is being chased by an angry dog then that could suggest fear; however if a heart is racing because you are looking at somebody that you love then that can be considered as excitement.

 References :

Cannon, W. B. (1927) The James-Lange theory of emotion: A critical examination and an alternative theory. American Journal of Psychology, 39, 10-124.

James, W. (1884). What is emotion?, Mind, 9, 188-205.

Lange, C. (1887). Ueber Gemuthsbewgungen, 3, 8.

Schachter, S. & Singer, J. E. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, 69, 379-399.