By Johnny Ackley
In the first half of the 20th century an emphasis had been placed on what people do (as opposed to how they think) in the world of psychology. Behaviorism was at a high point and cognitive psychology had yet to be developed. However that was soon to change.
Cognitive Psychology was published in 1967 by Ulric Neisser and the development of the discipline of Cognitive Psychology was in full swing. A new emphasis was being placed on how people think.
Once again, it is not a coincidence that the rise of the psycho killer movie genre was right after the development of cognitive psychology. Psycho Killers play off the fears of how people think. Kort-Butler and Hartshorn (2011) found that watching criminal behavior and fear & anxiety concerning criminals have a complex relationship (it may depend on the type of program). However there does seem to be a correlation in many cases between watching crime on tv and having fear or anxiety about crime.
Byrne (1998) stated that to play on the fears of the audience, these movies also often state that the movie is based off a “true story.” Even though that notion is irrational, it still enhances the fear in the audience despite the fact that cognitively they should “know better.”
Overall this cognitive movement caused a shift from directors placing such emphasis on stimulus and response tactics of behaviorism (such as a scary person should produce a scary reaction) to placing an emphasis on how the audience member thinks. For example, instead of the villain of the movie looking scary or being a monster, the villain looked like your average human being. They sometimes were even attractive and very charismatic. And when this normal looking person began killing people and acting like a monster, this caused a scared reaction of the audience because it is scary that your average person could be a serial killer. Not only that, but to a degree it is cognitively rational to believe there could be a monster among us at any time.