Why We Love Being Scared

BOO!! Did I scare you? Did you like it? Of course you did. That’s why you’re reading this in the first place. Some people love it and some people hate it. I love it! That’s what inspired this evil labor of love. But what is it about it that we love so much? What drives us to search out the scariest things we can find? Why do we love having the crap scared out of us??

Your body tenses, the adrenaline starts flowing, your heart starts pounding, you start breathing heavily, and maybe you even start sweating. Sounds like sex, right? Ok yeah, if you’re doing right (and who doesn’t love that feeling?). But I’m talking about getting scared. There is a lot of scientific research about the psychology of fear, what scares us and why. But in my opinion, it’s just too much fun!

We get that hyped-up feeling from the adrenaline your brain is pumping out (from the amygdala, for all you science nerds). When you’re afraid, excited, or stressed, your amygdala starts producing the chemicals dopamine, endorphins, and adrenaline. This puts your body on high alert and ready to act on whatever is happening.

Each brain assesses risk differently. The way our brains react to fear-inducing stimuli is different for every person. Studies have shown that people who have thinner sections of grey matter seem to feel thrilling situations as less threatening than others. These are the people that always look for bigger thrills. Scientists believe that further research may one day provide additional insights into these specific neurological traits. 

Whether you’re watching a horror movie, on a crazy amusement park ride, or walking through a haunted house, your body will react the same. That’s when the heavy breathing and heart-pounding start.  It’s physiological arousal.  This makes whatever you do afterward feel more enjoyable. The theory is that the excitement stays with you for a while afterward, and enhances anything you do next. People who go to horror movies or haunted attractions together usually come out laughing and talking non-stop about it. And you know some people who take a date to a horror movie just in the hope of getting laid after. (you know you’ve tried it!)  Let’s face it, life can suck hard sometimes. Getting lost in a scary book is a great diversion. After reading a good story, the creepy feeling you have is way better than the one you get after reading the news.

My kid and I love to scare each other. One day I couldn’t find her, I looked everywhere. When I went back into her room she reached out and grabbed my ankle from under her bed. I screamed like a little girl. She was so proud! I’ve never seen a child look so pleased with themselves. She has a Raggedy Ann Doll (the “real” Annabelle) that I would leave in various spots around the house. I got her every time! Try it if you have kids. They’ll either love it or end up in therapy, but either way, you’ll have fun!  

Give me a good old-fashioned jump scare and I’m a happy girl.  And I can honestly say that delving into the mind of a serial killer is fascinating, but knowing that there are more like them out there always scares the crap out of me! But no matter what it is, or how much it scares me, I always keep going back for more.

Horror movies, books, and haunted houses are safe scares. You decide how brave you are and how bad you want to be scared. Some people aren’t afraid of any of that, no matter how intense it is. I will read pretty much anything, regardless of how scary it is. I WANT a movie to scare me, though I’m not a fan of torture movies and intense gore. I’d rather be scared instead of grossed out.  And haunted houses are so much fun! But I refuse to go into any place where someone is going to touch me (yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s a personal thing).

A person’s life experiences and personality can determine what they’re willing to do or see. I have a friend who is so easily scared, that the theme from Halloween freaks her out.  She was so scared by someone dressed as Michael Myers, that he had to take his mask off or she wouldn’t come into the house! Needless to say, she won’t go near anything scary. If someone was really scared by something when they were a child, chances are they will avoid the same thing as an adult.

I know that I love to be scared and I know why, but that doesn’t make a psychologist or an expert. So I did some research to find some books written by professionals on the topic of fear. If you’re interested in learning more (and love to read), I did a little digging and found some books that have great reviews. I hope you like them.

New Research on the Psychology of Fear by Paul L. GowerHas 5 stars on Goodreads but wasn’t rated anywhere else. I’m listing it because it looks interesting. This is an older book and pretty expensive, but worth the money, depending on how interested you are.  It’s a revised issue of a collection of research about fear. If you read it already, I would love your opinions on it!

Screaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes you Happy and Healthy by S.A. Bradley A little bit of psychology, a little bit of horror movie fandom. It has pieces of interviews with horror greats like John Carpenter, info about a bunch of women who direct horror movies, and breakdowns of the scariest moments in over 100 horror movies. Bradley uses this to explain the effect of fear on our lives. It has 4.5 stars on Goodreads and 5 stars on Amazon.

Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear by Margee Kerr – Kerr is a sociologist who studies fear. She has also worked at a haunted house and paid a lot of attention to people and what scares them. So she decided to visit some of the scariest places in the world and even go ghost hunting. This book is a combo of the science behind fear and telling her experiences. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon and 3.5 on Goodreads.

So my advice to you my friends is to get your scare on however you want! Not into terror? Hit up the PG-rated horrors. Don’t scare easily, go for everything! Either way, just have fun and don’t pee your pants!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thoughts-thinking/201810/5-reasons-we-enjoy-being-scared

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/fondness-fear-why-do-we-be-scared-ncna812661