With today being Halloween, this is the time of year (and literally the day) when people look forward to being scared and seek ways to experience fear. Going to a haunted house, riding a roller coaster, or just watching a scary movie are some of the ways people look to the pleasurable, lighter side of feeling fear. But not everyone enjoys feeling scared, so…what makes it so fun for some?
There are several factors that contribute to the enjoyment of fear, causing people to seek it out. The first of these factors is the physiological response we get from feeling scared. This response is called the excitation transfer process or fight or flight response. It is caused by the autonomic nervous system releasing chemicals such as adrenaline which causes our heart rate, energy, blood pressure and breathing to increase. After we experience the fearful event, our bodies remain in an excited state which enhances overall emotions. For example, after going to watch a horror movie with your friends, any positive emotions that you experience after watching the movie (hearing a joke, having fun or getting a compliment) are intensified without you being aware of it. This lets you focus your thoughts on the great time you had and not on the fear you experienced during the film.
The next factor that influences why some people enjoy fear is simply that every individual is wired differently. Some people simply enjoy an adrenaline rush, causing them to seek out situations which trigger fear. These personality structures also influence why others hate feeling scared. These people may be more sensitive to environmental stimuli, causing them to have a negative reaction to experiences that elicit fear.
Morbid curiosity can also be a factor in why some people seek out horror movies and events that elicit fear. The same way that we look at a car accident when we are passing by, we have an inherent need to be aware of possible dangers around us; and on some level we are curious about things we haven’t yet experienced.
A word of warning before rushing out to the latest horror film: not all the effects are positive. Research shows that approximately 60% of children who watched scary movies before the age of 14 had negative reactions which included trouble sleeping and increased anxiety during activities that are not typically considered unsafe. Adults can have negative reactions to watching horror movies as well due to memories stored in our brains. To some, the memories of a horror movie trigger reactions similar to experiencing a trauma. In addition, people who watch horror movies and violence in the media can become desensitized to actual violence.