Associate Professor of Literature and Media at Aarhus University
Mathias Clasen is a specialist in horror media and has spent years getting to the bottom of the paradox of horror: Why do people seek out the kind of entertainment that’s designed to make them feel bad?
Drawing from research on human cognition and evolution, Mathias argues that our appetite for horror and our fascination with monsters run deep in our nature.
Horror entertainment serves important functions for us by satisfying a deep-seated need for imaginative experiences with scenarios of danger.
Despite his sustained professional engagement with the genre, Mathias still cannot watch a horror film alone.
On the first speaker workshop on June 25th, we interviewed Mathias. Check out the two parts of the interview below.
What are you going to talk about in your TEDx talk?
I’ll talk about the paradox of horrifying entertainment—why do people seek out stories and experiences that scare them? There are good scientific reasons for this peculiar appetite, and I’ll get into the psychological and evolutionary underpinnings of the phenomenon.
What can people take with them when they have seen your talk?
They’ll get a better understanding of a curious aspect of human behavior, and they’ll get a deeper appreciation of horror as a type of entertainment that serves important psychological functions. They’ll understand that the appetite for horror and the fascination with monsters run deep in human nature.
What does “Into the Wild” mean to you?
I’m particularly curious about mental journeys into the wild, that is, how humans use their imaginations to have all kinds of wild and terrible vicarious experiences. We’re prone to worst-case hypothetical thinking, which makes good evolutionary sense (as preparation for the future), but why do we spend so much time in horror universes mediated through films, literature, games, and so on?
How do you connect your talk to the theme?
I’ll focus on the appeals and functions of horror entertainment, and so give an explanation of why so many people love mental journeys into the wild—into the monster-infested jungles of the mind.
What is your favorite TED talk and why?
I love Denis Dutton’s “A Darwinian theory of beauty” because Dutton concisely, convincingly, and entertainingly explains how our aesthetic sense is a product of natural and sexual selection. He shows the tremendous explanatory power of Darwin’s theory, and the video itself is an aesthetic as well as communicative marvel.
What/who inspires you – and why?
Good books, mainly. Fiction, science writing, scholarly writing. Sci-fi, horror, academic monographs. Conversations, walks, lectures. Any stimulus that prompts the generation of new ideas or the reorganization of old ones.
What did you feel, when you found out that you had been chosen to do a TEDx talk?
I was thrilled. I’ve been a fan of TED for a long time. It’s a unique format for the dissemination of ideas, and I have long dreamed of doing a TED talk myself because I believe I have an idea that’s worth sharing.