Why We Love Being Scared
Uploaded by Mason Costa on October 31, 2011 at 11:48 AM
Many people love being scared, but why?
- People Enjoy Being Scared
- Curiosity May Kill the Cat, but Not A Viewer
- Thrill Seekers
- Wrap Up
As many of you know, Halloween is today. One of the staples of Halloween is the haunted house. This is an experience that has perplexed me for years. I've never understood why people will pay to be scared. The same thing goes for horror movies. If I'm going to pay for something, I don't want to fear for my life or want to curl up in the fetal position at any time. Needless to say, I'm more of a comedy fan. But, as luck would have it, I married one of those people that love haunted houses. My lovely wife enjoys having the bejesus scared out of her. Unfortunately, it's just fun for her, so I can't really glean anything more than that about the reasoning from her.
I've long thought the reason people enjoy these experiences is two fold. First, I thought they were more thrilled than scared. It is safe after all; there's no real life or death fear. You very rarely see people try to fight to escape a haunted house. The fight-or-flight reactions seem to be keep to a minimum; so how scared can people really be. Secondly, I've long since thought that people did it because of some chemical reaction in the brain. Kind of like a runner's high, or something of that nature. That maybe there is a euphoric chemical that is secreted in reaction to fear, or surviving a fearful event. One thing I never thought, and still refuse to believe, is that people can enjoy being scared.
As the heading implies, I was wrong. I found an article from the archives on Science Daily, that cites a study by Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen. A common thread in my two explanations is the notion that people cannot experience joy and fear at once. It seems counter intuitive, right? I've never looked at my credit card bill with a smile. Nor have I ever seen anyone in a movie laughing as they run from a knife weilding maniac. I felt like my assumption of joy and fear being mutually exclusive was pretty solid. Unfortunately, Mr. Andrade and Mr. Cohen disagree with me. Their study found that people can, in fact, find joy and pleasure from fear. They say that "horror movie viewers are happy to be unhappy."
So we've established that people can enjoy both at once; but why would you want to? I can accept that fear and pleasure can coincide; I don't like it, but I can accept it. But why not go see a comedy and have pleasure coincide with laughter? In having this discussion with several "thrill seekers" over the years, I came up with another reason people may enjoy nearly soiling themselves; curiosity. Hopefully, and I'm really hoping I'm right in assuming this, you don't see death and the paranormal on a daily basis. So there is an innate curiosity and sense of wonder about the acts in a horror movie. I've never seen a zombie walk the streets, though I'm prepared to survive a zombie apocalypse, so I understand the allure of the unknown. I can begin to understand the psychology behind your curiosity. It's along the lines of people stopping traffic on one side of the interstate because of an accident on the other. Most of the people I know don't look hoping to see a gruesome accident or a grizzly sight, they are just too curious about what happened. Personally I feel too bad for the people involved to look, but I can at least understand it.
Thrill seekers like fear because of the rush they feel
There is yet another category of person out there that simply loves the thrill of it all. These are the people that paddle the roughest rivers in inner tubes or sky dive or base jump. They genuinely love the rush they get from facing ordinarily dangerous situations and living to tell the tale. Some people just love danger. And if a haunted house or horror movie does a good job, your mind will sense a good deal of danger. The psychology of thrill seekers is going to be left for another article, probably on another blog. But suffice it to say, they exist and they tend to enjoy these things that make some of us panic.
Not all thrill seekers fall into the "facing death" category. Some just love the rush of jubilation they feel after they've made it through a horror movie or haunted house. They are the kind of people that don't necessarily look like they're enjoying themselves while it's happening, but they'll certainly tell you about how great it was afterward. Most thrill seekers tend to be men, so there's also an ego aspect to the pursuit of fear. Guys want to be able to endure things other guys can't handle. Or they want to make it through the haunted house without wetting themselves or screaming like a child.
At any given time in the theater of a horror movie, you'll have several different types of people hoping to achieve the same end result; be scared. I'll go on record and say I'm not a psychologist, so there are probably many more reasons for seeing scary movies. But from what I've read and observed, these appear to be some of the most common horror movie goers. For people like myself, the pursuit of fear is still something we don't fully comprehend. I'd do anything in my power to avoid being scared. But I may be in the minority on this one. People love fear, or at least they appear to. So to those folks, hopefully you got your fill of haunted houses this month, it's going to be a while before they come back. If not, you can just open your gas bill; it's sure to be quite frightening in the coming winter months. Thanks again for reading.