An elevated heart rate. Sweaty palms. Clenched teeth. A loud, blood-curdling scream.
For the main character of a horror movie, these are the telltale indicators of fear. For those of us lucky enough to be sitting on the couch watching the movie, they induce more excitement than fear.
Despite the Halloween-fueled chaos that begins in the fall, fear is a feeling that many of us are drawn to year-round. Some people (like me!) find fear to be fun and even go out of their ways to experience a good scare. We ride roller coasters in the summer and watch horror movies in the winter. When October rolls around, we wait in line at haunted houses just to experience a few minutes of fright.
But why do we seek out these things? The answer is simple: it feels good.
A Chemical Reaction
According to Katey Baruth, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and online instructor for Johnson & Wales University, being scared can be exhilarating for people as long as they know they are safe.
“The tidal wave of fear when frightened, paired with the perceived release to safety, can release naturally occurring hormones in the brain and nervous system,” she explained. The release of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin can result in feelings of pleasure and relief, which is why many people tend to seek out scares more than once.
Sara Shine, an online instructor at JWU, added that the brain activity that occurs when we get scared is similar to what people feel when they gamble.
“Some people are more comfortable living on the edge,” she said, noting that whether or not you like scary things has a lot to do with your personality. “Typically people that like to be scared like that adrenaline rush.” And, she said, that chances are that if you like that rush, you might seek it out in other aspects of your life, too.
Using Fear to Our Advantage
While it might be unnerving to think about how and why you might be scared, remember that there are healthy ways to use these emotions to your advantage. According to Heather Myers, online instructional designer and instructor at JWU Online, fear helps us safely escape the real things in our lives that are scary.
“Telling a distracting scary story helps us learn that there are monsters out there but that we have the capabilities to defeat those monsters,” said Myers, who wrote her anthropology thesis for her master’s degree on zombies. “Fear allows us to transcend and tackle taboos that we wouldn’t necessarily get to tackle in real life.”
Want to learn more about earning your psychology degree with Johnson & Wales University’s College of Online Education? For more information, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881.