In: Projections – The Journal for Movies and Mind. Vol. 8, No. 2, Winter 2014.
In this text I explore the question what we are actually afraid of when we are scared at the movies. It is usually claimed that our fear derives from our engagement with characters and our ‘participation’ through thought, simulation or make-believe in fearful situations of the filmic world. While these standard accounts provide part of the explanation why we are afraid, I aim to complement them by showing that we often literally fear for ourselves as well. Concentrating on an anticipatory subspecies of cinematic fear I call ‘dread,’ I argue that we often fear a negative affective outcome, namely our own fearful experience of shock and/or horror that usually ends scenes of dread. By looking at viewers’ action tendencies and actions proper activated in dreadful moments, I suggest that we appraise scenes of dread as potentially harmful to our current (and even future) psychological well-being. Dread will thus turn out to be a specific kind of meta-emotion.