Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
Mandatory Fields
King, R. J.
Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences
A Regiment of Monstrous Women: Female Horror Archetypes and Life History Theory
Optional Fields
Evolution; myth; anthropology; horror; life history theory; reproduction
Recently, psychologists have started to extend evolutionary behavioral analysis to art and literature. A standpoint that humans are non-accidentally narrative beings, that seek for meaning in their social interactions, has become more widely accepted among scholars. However, the question of whether story telling has an adaptive function, or is a pleasurable by-product is still debated. For story-telling to be adaptive, narrative would need to instruct. For example stories might be shown to help solve local issues of bulk information processing—what is known in AI as the frame problem. On the other hand, merely pleasurable story-telling would show no adaptive variation depending on local threats and opportunities. Across human cultures through time and space, the pattern of story-telling has been that both sexes share and consume stories. Given that much of the patterns of human mating show antagonistic and competitive elements it is thus unlikely that an adaptive function for story-telling is the answer—or else key tactics, stratagems, and patterns would be being handed to the opposition. However—human social adaptions evolved in an adaptively relevant environment of small groups of close kin. In this ancestral environment, story-telling could have had adaptive functionality and the pleasure that we have in them now could be as a by-product of our being keyed to this system. Humans enjoy and share stories and it is not accidental that we acquire social information in this way. However, it does not follow that the telling of stories per se is a necessary condition of learning, any more than the consuming or artificially sweet foods is necessary simply because it too is pleasurable. Story telling could persist because it presents super-normal, rather than realistic, stimuli of pleasurably recognized patterns of interaction. This is especially notable in the case of horror stories. The contention of this study is, therefore, that story telling persists and is enjoyable because it taps into universally recognized patterns of human interaction across time and space. Contrary to some accounts of human social life, patterns of human expression are not random or arbitrary, and a biological understanding can illuminate eternal themes and concerns. The expression and repetition of these themes in numerous combinations—e.g. stories--has served to allow humans to process virtual interactions of both past and possible futures in meaningful ways. Viewed in this way, stories are ways to make sense of past experience, integrating them into the biography of an organism that lives in a world of social meaning. In pursuit of furthering study in this area, I present a preliminary thematic analysis of specifically female characters in horror stories. I hope to show it as plausible that female horror characters--their goals, concerns, threats they pose and opportunities they find--track the four major reproductive life history stages in humans. Female horror characters at puberty, mate selection, motherhood and menopause show themes and concerns consistent with the critical life history decisions to be made at these stages. These patterns show signs of being both long-lived and cross-cultural. It is hoped that further studies will explore these themes in more detail and start to abandon the sterile concerns with psycho-analytic or arbitrary constructionist approaches to psychological aesthetics.
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