Fear and Disgust

I have proposed, following Power and Dalgleish (1997), that emotional reactions to monsters in horror games are disgust-based, not purely fear-based in Goals, Affects, and Empathy in Computer Games (Lankoski, 2007) and in Hear-Raising Entertainment (Ekman, Lankoski, 2009).

Power and Dalgleish (1997) argue that emotional reactions to snakes and spiders relate to disgust, not to fear. However, in the study by Mobbs et al (2010) people responded with fear to  a tarantula.  The study shows that amygdala grow more active when the spider approach and less active when it retreats. Amygdala activation is associated with fear reactions. For example, in a study by Anderson et al (2003) show evidence that anterior insula responds to the facial expression of disgust  and amygdala to the facial expressions of fear.

In addition to amygdala, Mobbs et al (2010) report also activation in the midbrain,  PAG, ventral striatum, BNST, bilateral anterior insula, and dorsar anterrior cingulate cortex when the tarantula was placed near to the subject’s foot. Anterior insulate correlate to disgust reactions. So, is there disgust reaction to the tarantula or only fear reaction?

It would be interesting to see a comparison between the brain activations of an enemy (e.g., human in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) and a monster (e.g., an insect-hybrid in Silent Hill 3).


  • Anderson et al (2003).Neural Correlates of the Automatic Processing of Threat Facial Signals. The Journal of Neuroscience 23(12).
  • Ekman, Lankoski (2009). Hair -Raising Entertainment. In Berron (ed.) Horror Video Games. McFarland, pp. 181–1999.
  • Lankoski (2007). Goals, affects, and empathy in computer games. Paper presented at the Philosophy of Computer Games, Reggio-Emilia, Italy.
  • Mobbs et al (2010). Neural activity associated with monitoring tbe oscilating threat value of a tarantula. PNAS Early Edition. DOI=10.1073/pnas.1009076107

Published by lankoski

Petri Lankoski, D.Arts, is a Associate Professor in Game Studies at the school of Communication, Media and IT at the Södertörn University, Sweden. His research focuses on game design, game characters, role-playing, and playing experience. Petri has been concentrating on single-player video games but researched also (multi-player) pnp and live-action role-playing games. This blog focuses on his research on games and related things.

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