The psychology of zombies

My friends and family are endlessly amused by the fact that I’m a fan of zombie fiction, both on the movie (or television) screen and in print. Although I admit to enjoying the adrenaline rush that comes from being scared-but-ultimately-safe (just as, for example, roller coaster aficionados seek out ever-more intense thrill rides), my training as a psychologist and cognitive scientist also come into play. Zombies represent a kind of twilight state between life and death that gives us insights into our deepest fears and the coping mechanisms we develop to manage those fears.

(In my defense, even the Centers for Disease Control see zombies as a useful way to encourage emergency preparedness.)

Happily, I’m not the only university researcher with a professional interest in zombies. Harvard professor Steven C. Schlozman is a child and adolescent psychiatrist by training but he also has an interest in zombies. Not only has Dr. Schlozman published a well-received work of fiction about zombies, he has also developed what he terms a “theoretical neurobiology and psychology” of zombies.

See here for a short article describing Schlozman’s zombie neurobiology, and see here for a video (with downloadable podcast) of Schlozman discussing zombies at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, as part of a lecture series co-sponsored by the Boston Museum of Science and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

For those who are less neuro-scientifically inclined, Schlozman discusses zombies as a manifestation of apocalyptic thinking in this article from Psychology Today.

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