Haunted houses. Zombies. Scary movies. Fear is in the air this Halloween season, and for many, it's as much of a staple of the holiday as candy corn and carved pumpkins. But if fear is our natural response to danger, would do we want to seek it out?
To answer that question, I spoke to Dr. Christopher Hall, PhD, licensed social work counselor and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He breaks down the reasons why many people enjoy a good scare:
1. The adrenaline rush. When we are scared, our fight-or-flight reaction kicks in with a massive rush of adrenaline. Adrenaline is a survival hormone produced by the adrenal glands that creates an immediate flood of energy and focus, and this enhances our senses and awareness of our environment. This feeling can be addictive, particularly in today's society where there are so many distractions via cellphones, texts and emails that pull us away from the present moment. When scared, our focus is clear; we become connected with the present moment, we gain an energy boost, and there is an immediate rush.
2. The control factor. It may seem counter-intuitive, but we feel more in control and confident in ourselves when we are scared and survive the challenge. Safety is created by being able to predict events, seeing those events unfold, and then surviving those events. By way of example, young children like to read the same stories over and over again because they know what's coming in the story. They can predict what will happen and because it happens the same way every time, they gain a sense of control and safety in their environment. One of the gains from those who seek fear is the after-effect of knowing that they predicted there would be a scary event, they experienced the fear, and survived it.
3. The sense of adventure and accomplishment. We all love a good adventure, but those who seek fear also love adventure and a twisty-turny, spicy life! Remember the movie hero Indiana Jones? At the end of every terrifying scene and monumental challenge, we'd see the shot of his trademark smirk. Not only did he just do those amazing things, but he was proud of himself. We may not all be action heroes, but if we experience fear with them and we survive, we also share in a similar sense of accomplishment.
Related on MNN:
- Babies learn fear from their mothers through smell
- 5 new books about fear you should be reading
- Fear of snakes may be genetic