What the living dead can teach us about ancient prejudices
The 2014 premier of The Walking Dead—AMC’s postapocalyptic dystopian television series about zombies—was the most watched cable show in history. There have been a slew of popular zombie films such as Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and of course the perennial favorite Frankenstein. There is even a neuroscience text on the zombie brain, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? by Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek (Princeton University Press, 2014), in which the authors consider real disorders that could turn the living into the living dead. Why are we so intrigued by zombies?
Zombies, for one thing, fit into the horror genre in which monstrous creatures—like dangerous predators in our ancestral environment— trigger physiological fight-or-flight reactions such as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and the release of such stress hormones as cortisol and adrenaline that help us prepare for danger. New environments may contain an element of risk, but we must explore them to find new sources of food and mates. So danger contains an element of both fear and excitement. (continue reading…)