How fictions can cause emotions, such as fear. This is an interesting question because we don′t take fictions for real, so why can they cause such strong emotions?
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Emotions define biological and psychological states connected with the nervous system,
mainly generated by neurophysiological changes associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioral
responses, and certain pleasure or displeasure. Emotions are mostly intertwined with an
individual’s temperament, mood, disposition, personality, creativity, and motivation. Some
common types of emotions include happiness, disgust, sadness, fear, anger, and surprise caused
by different events, people, or activities (Oatley, 2010). This report focuses on the emotion of
fear. Fear defines a natural, primitive, and powerful human feeling experienced by different
individuals across the world. In other words, it is a universal biochemical response and high
individual emotional response. The common trigger or cause for fear is being threatened or in
danger, whether real or imagined (Lamb, 2018). This threat can be towards a person’s physical,
emotional, or psychological well-being. The common triggers for fear include darkness, high
heights, flying, rejection and social interaction, animals such as snakes or spiders and rodents,
and imagining death or dying. Persistent or continuous fear can sometimes lead to moods and
mental disorders such as anxiety and depression if not well managed. As mentioned earlier, fear
can be caused by either real or imagined fear. Here, fiction or imagined events cause fear. Fiction
can be in movies or novels, and some of the scenes displayed could cause tremendous fear in
both children and adults. This case analyses how fiction causes fear, as illustrated by Walton
(1978) and by Schroeder and Matheson (2006) in the response paper.
Many individuals are indeed moved and acquire different emotions even by what they
know to be fictional or not real. More specifically, fiction causes fear in both children and adults.
Writers utilize suspense to evoke fear in movies, games, and novels. Fear is a feeling or emotion
that both the character and the reader or viewer can feel together (Neill, 1993). In some cases, it
is just the viewer can realize it and wait for the character to catch up. Different individuals
engage with fiction in various ways, and even though they know that it is not real, some
characters and events evoke fear. One of the characters read in novels and illustrated in movies
that invoke fear in many individuals is Dracula. People well know that Dracula is not real, but
when they watch a movie about Dracula or vampires, they feel extreme fear levels. When an
individual believes that Dracula may exist or feel threatened by his presence, they get the feeling
of fear in response to that scene. A viewer may also feel fear if he suspects that the couple he is
rooting for in a fictional movie may not get together. Speculative fiction is one of the main forms
of published events that describe narrative fiction featuring supernatural and futuristic elements
(Neill, 1993). Speculative fiction is one of the leading causes of fear as it includes scenarios
involving science fiction, fantasy, utopian, horror, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic, and
post-apocalyptic fiction. The personality, traits, actions, behaviors, and physical appearance
displayed by characters in different fiction settings, especially in horror movies, cause fear in
different individuals. Thus, it is fundamental to say that fiction causes fear.
Fearing Fictions by Kendall L. Walton
Walton's (1978) report illustrates a scenario where a young boy named Charles is
watching a film about a horrifying green slime. He clings to his seat as he sees the slime oozing
relentlessly, destroying everything on its way. As the slime move towards the viewers, Charles
emits a shriek, clutching more onto his chair. Afterwards, still horrified, he says that he was
terrified and afraid of the slime. But was he really terrified by the slime? This question is a
significant part of the big phenomena of how distant or disconnected fictional worlds are from
reality. According to Walton (1978), there is a barrier against physical interactions between the
real and fictional world. In Charles's case, there is no way for Charles to get a sample of the
slime for analysis to determine if it is dangerous. However, as the case illustrates, it shows there
is a psychological barrier in fiction. In other words, as Walton (1978) suggests, real people
frequently experience psychological attitudes towards fictional entities and scenes despite the
impossibility of interacting physically. In this case, Charles, as the spectator, claims that he fears
Individuals do indeed get emotionally involved in fictional stories and movies. Physical
interactions are only possible with actual or existing objects or people. This is why Charles could
not catch the slime and why generally real individuals cannot physically interact with fictional
characters. However, though the slime does not exist in the real world, this does not prevent or
stop Charles from fearing it. An individual may fear a burglar or a ghost even if there is none
because they believe that there is or at least could be. In this case, the person feels fear because
they think they are in danger, and there is a high chance of being harmed by the burglar. With
this in mind, it is conceivable that Charles believes that he is threatened or in danger from the
green slime (Walton, 1978). If he takes the movie as a live documentary, then naturally, he is
afraid of the slime.
However, Walton presents another possibility where he argues that Charles may not be
experiencing the feeling of fear but rather an intense experience. More specifically, Charle’s
state, to an extent, is different from that of individual feeling fear. Charles knows that the slime is
fictional, and that is a vital reason to argue that what he felt cannot be identified as fear.
According to Walton (1978), Charles does not believe that he is threatened or in danger, which is
a crucial factor that drives fear. This means that he is not afraid and does not feel fear. Charles
portrays some behaviors that may show that he fears the slime, such as shuddering and declaring
that he was terrified. However, this only shows the intensity of Charles’ experiences when
watching the movie (Walton, 1978). Though Charles believed that he felt fear, his behaviors are
not sufficient to conclude that he was afraid of the slime. Fundamentally, Charles’ responses to
the sight of the slime are partly caused by a form of belief, not one that makes him believe he is
in danger, but one that forced him to respond the way he did.
Nevertheless, although the viewer, Charles, is not afraid of the slime, the movie might
generate real fear. In essence, it might make him feel afraid of other things in the movie other
than the slime. The film might make him question whether there might be slimes in real life or
other horrific events similar to those illustrated in the movie, even though he knows that the
movie itself and the slime are not real. He might even experience nightmares afterwards related
to the movie. Walton also shows how other stories and games of make-believe causes fear in
both children and adults. In the movie, when the slime raises its head and moves towards the
camera, it is make-believe that Charles is threatened. At this moment, he gasps and tightly holds
the chair, which means that he is make-believedly afraid (Walton, 1978). According to Walton’s
report, Charles imagines that he is afraid of the slime while knowing that he is not. He describes
his experience as one of fear. Nonetheless, his tendency to imagine that he is afraid of the slime
based on his mental state makes him believe that he is afraid.
The reaction of Charles towards the movie, mostly the slime, clarifies the psychological
attitudes experienced by individuals towards fictional concepts and demonstrations. In his article,
Walton depicts the close connection between the fictional worlds and the real world. It suggests
that the viewer’s state of mind creates make-believe truths since he is not just an observer of the
fictional world. This asserts that what individuals believe invoke certain emotions, including
fear. The article, mainly through Charles’ reactions and expressions towards the green slime in
the movie, gives readers clear insights into how fictional worlds affect individuals in the real
world even when they know that it is not real. Essentially, Walton depicts what happens when
individuals get emotionally or psychologically involved in novel or make-believe stories and
games and how it affects their emotions.
Imagination and Emotion by Timothy Schroeder and Carl Matheson
Schroeder and Matheson's (2006) article starts by starting by stating that “That fiction
produces strong feelings in most of us is an undeniable truth.” For instance, the death of Little
Nell, the heroine of Charles’ Dicken’s The Old Curiosity Shop, brought grief to its readers. This
reaction shows how individuals naturally respond to different scenarios in fiction. However, it
also raises the question of why individuals get such strong feelings about different situations
even when they know they are not real. According to Schroeder and Matheson (2006), various
philosophers have interpreted the phenomenon of individuals’ reactions to fiction in three ways.
First, is the classificatory question which asks how people’s feelings towards fiction can be
correctly classified as emotions. This concept asks whether individuals should literally grieve for
fictional characters such as Little Neil or fear Dracula. This question is developed for individuals
who take on the view of emotions based on the feelings that require beliefs alongside subjective
feelings. In this case, for an individual to experience specific emotion such as fear, they have to
believe to be in danger.
Philosophers can also solve individuals’ feelings towards fiction by answering the Flaw
Question. This question asks whether an individual’s response to fiction solely relies on a
particular mistake. It aims to find out if an individual must hold a fake or false belief or be
deluded to be affected by fiction. The Flaw Question asserts that individuals’ reaction to fiction
are usually irrational where other people take their responses to be free of flaws. Finally,
Explanatory Question seeks to answer and explain why individuals have such strong reactions
towards fiction. According to Schroeder and Matheson (2006), Walton addresses the
Explanatory Question in his arguments and beliefs in Fearing Fictions. More specifically,
Schroeder and Matheson (2006) show how and why individuals respond as they do like in
Walton’s report Fearing Fictions and explores the concept of Explanatory Question as applied in
the article. The response states that Walton beliefs that the reader does not fear Dracula or feel
fear of Mina’s behalf. Instead, she makes believe that she fears Dracula and for Mina. According
to the article, Walton drive that people’s cognitive attitude toward fiction causes an individual’s
responses towards a specific fictional character. In this case, it is the thought of Little Nell’s
dying that drives individuals into sadness and grieve while the idea of Dracula drinking people’s
blood that instils fear and horror to the viewers and readers. Thoughts are not the same as beliefs.
Thus, the thought of Little Neill’s death does not really drive individuals to believe that a person
is dying out there. Nevertheless, the thought is real and has the causal force to cause strong
reactions in different viewers or readers.
Schroeder and Matheson (2006) suggest that distinct cognitive attitude (DCA) is
responsible for all the emotions experienced by individuals towards fiction such as the responses
of individuals including Charles towards the green slime as depicted by Walton (1978). The
article further claim that imaginations, whether in children or adults, produces feelings just as
fiction does. Imagining certain events could lead to certain emotions or feelings, including fear,
happiness or anger. The article claims that DCA mediates between the feelings of an individual
and their imagination. It also explains the neuroscientific approach towards the Explanatory
Question as applied by Walton in Fearing Fiction. The neuroscientific approach begins with the
senses and then the production of sensory and quasi-sensory representations, which stimulate the
sense organs. In this case, when the sense organs are stimulated, they produce neural signals
which establish patterns of activities in the brain. These activities are segregated by sense
modality and create unimodal sensory representations which represent things such as boundaries,
dark or light, surfaces, edges and distance. How these things are displayed and illustrated greatly
influences how individuals respond to fiction. More specifically, once the unimodal senses are
generated, they send impulses to emotional centres such as the orbitofrontal cortex and
amygdala. Once these emotional trigger centres are activated, they produce various feelings and
physical responses associated with different emotions.
Fundamentally, Schroeder and Matheson’s (2006) response to the Explanatory Question
like that used by Walton (1978) in his arguments suggests that when individuals engage their
imaginations via the experiences of fictions, that engagement causes simple sensory
representations which in turn causes more complex representations. The representations also
include the contents that would be true in imagined scenarios which are the DCAs. They also
have their characteristic effects which, as mentioned above, activate the parts of the brain that
produces the feelings and physical responses characterized as emotions. The article emphasizes
that belief-like DCA created by a person’s imaginations and desires also profoundly help in the
generation of feelings by the imagination or fiction. The report also notes that real and made
desires or both profoundly influences how different individuals feel or respond to imaginary
scenarios or fiction, which explains the spectators’ reactions, mostly fear, towards the fictional
movie depicted in Fearing Fictions.
Fear is experienced by different individuals globally. In essence, it has been a vital
response to physical and emotional danger that has been proven essential through evolution from
generation to generation. From my understanding and based on my experiences, fear is an
emotion or feeling instilled by perceived threat or danger, which causes behavioral changes and
physiological changes such as fleeing or hiding. Sometimes I feel fear when I watch a horror
movie or when I read a horrifying novel or when I feel like someone is following me while
walking on the streets. Though fear in both humans and animals helps to promote survival skills,
sometimes excessive fear can cause trauma and anxiety. Thus, it may not be healthy to feel fear
all the time.
I strongly agree with Walton’s (1978) argument that fear can be caused by fiction, either
fictional movies or novels. In other words, individuals do experience fear if they watch scary
movies or scenes. Walton (1978) depicts a film with a green slime that destroys everything it
touches and Charles’ reactions towards the green slime. Charles says that he was terrified by the
slime, expressing real fear. Nonetheless, Walton continued to argue that Charles may not have
been necessarily experiencing fear while watching the movie since he knew that he was watching
a film which is not real.
Nonetheless, I believe that Charles was experiencing real fear based on his reactions,
such as clutching on the chair and shaking while watching the slime move towards the viewer.
Walton (1978) gives clear insights into how and why individuals experience fear towards fiction.
He explains that individuals can feel fear if they believe that they are in danger of the thing or
character shown in the movie. Further, Walton claims that spectators can show signs of fear if
they also imagine that the horrifying character exists even when they know that it is not real.
Dracula is the most appropriate example showing that individuals fear fictions even when they
know they do not live in the real world.
On the other hand, the article by Schroeder and Matheson (2006) shows how specific
changes in an individual causes fear when watching or listening to a fictional scenario. The
report analyses the Explanatory Question as implemented by Walton (1978) and other
philosophers to show that fiction causes fear. I strongly agree with Schroeder and Matheson’s
(2006) argument that individuals engage with their imaginations through the experiences and
different events in fiction, and that engagement causes simple sensory representations. These
sensory representations are crucial as they are the ones that in turn causes other complex
expressions, typically known as DCAs. The article shows how emotions such as happiness or
fear, are formed. According to Schroeder and Matheson (2006), DCAs have their unique
characteristic effects which activate the parts of the brain that produces feelings and physical
responses characterized as emotions.
The article emphasizes that belief-like DCA created by a person’s imaginations, such as
in Charles’ case as described by Walton (1978), and desires also profoundly help in the
generation of feelings by the imagination or fiction. The article shows how real and made desires
profoundly influences how different individuals feel or respond to imaginary scenarios or fiction.
In my view, it explains why different viewers have varying reactions to fiction. Schroeder and
Matheson’s (2006) article clearly illustrates and explains why individuals react as they do when
they interact with fiction even when they know that the characters and events are not real and
have little to no chance of taking place in the real world. Conclusively, both the target paper by
Walton (1978) and Schroeder and Matheson’s (2006) article depict and support that fiction
profoundly causes fear in both children and adults and the severity of the fear experienced
depends on an individual’s attitude and beliefs towards fiction and their imaginations.
Lamb, K. (2018, August 27). FEAR: Why humans crave stories that disturb them. Kristen
Neill, A. (1993). Fiction and Emotions. American Philosophical Quarterly, 30(1), 1-13.
Oatley, K. (2010, October 13). Emotions of fiction. Psychology
Schroeder, T., & Matheson, C. (2006). Imagination and emotion. The architecture of the
Walton, K. L. (1978). Fearing fictions. The Journal of Philosophy, 75(1), 5-27.