It’s that time of year again. Halloween. This means frightening costumes, wild parties, haunted houses and perhaps most jarringly, horror films are taking center stage. Dracula, Frankenstein, witches, ghosts and goblins are all around us at this time of year and Hollywood keeps providing them for the rest of the year as well.
Scary movies as well as scary theme parks allow us to experience the tonic of a good fright whenever we want one. Still, why do we like being scared, at least some of us?
Many behavioral researchers sharing the same puzzlement, gave rise to the term the “horror paradox.” When we get scared from watching a scary movie or after visiting a “haunted” house, our heart beats faster, our breath becomes more intense, we perspire more and get butterflies in our stomach.
Of course, not everyone likes being scared and how a person responds to fear is wired in their personality. According to Joanne Cantor, PhD, director of the Center for Communication Research at University of Wisconsin, Madison “no doubt, there’s something really powerful that brings people to watch these things, because it’s not logical, most people like to experience pleasant emotions.” (Source: WebMD)
What is it in our brain, however, that separates the pleasurable high of a horror film from the traumatizing experience of someone breaking into your house? The obvious answer is that we know that what’s happening on the screen isn’t real. Knowing that, our love of “fake” fear is enjoyable due to the way it makes us feel. More specifically:
Fear offers an escape from everyday routine
Our hectic lifestyle, often revolving solely around our work, makes many people feel overly routinized and even boring in their everyday life. However, when scared, we are fully aware, conscious and in the moment. Our mind cannot think about what happened at work or what needs to be done tomorrow. This helps us to feel more stimulated by life.
Fear offers an adrenaline rush “flooding” the brain with feel-good chemicals
Being scared activates a hormonal reaction which influences our brains and our bodies to respond to a perceived threat. And that can feel good. Neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline are being released. This charge to our mental and physical state is known as an adrenaline rush and knowing that you are safe and none of the things causing you to feel scared are real, makes this state of arousal a positive experience.
Fear feels you with confidence
Going through a scary experience can make us feel proud of what we’ve accomplished. Psychologically when we make it through a safe yet scary activity, it results in feelings of confidence, competence, accomplishment, and success. This is a real self-esteem booster. “There’s nothing quite like defeating a hoard of zombies in a haunted house or jumping out of a plane to make you feel like you can take on the world,” according to Dr. Margee Kerr, a Pittsburgh-based sociologist and self-styled “scare expert.
Fear makes us feel connected
Being scared can make us feel closer to one another. Haunted houses and amusement parks are great places for family and/or friends get-together. Taking part in activities together creates stronger bonds, stronger memories, and feelings of closeness. (Source: Huffington Post)
Fear makes us release strong emotions
Most of us, in our daily lives, don’t have a way to release and cope with actual fears and violence. There are benefits to let go of these pent up fears and let them run their course when we have the chance and Halloween is a great way to do just that.