We have been dreaming up ways to get scared for thousands of years. From folklore monsters to playing bloody Mary in sleepovers to creepypasta. It appears humanity has a long history of scaring ourselves silly...and enjoying it. But why?
Fear, and all the physical sensations that come with it, has long been linked to some ancient survival response to perceived threads. Now, not every person enjoys this feeling. If they did, wouldn't we have more year-round haunted houses? But for those of us who enjoy feeling fear, there may be a few legitimate reasons why we would totally pay for a year-long pass to a haunted house.
Dopamine is a big part of why people like to get spooked. One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine. Dr. David Zald, who studies and teaches psychological sciences, with a focus on neuroscience, at Vanderbilt, recently came out with a study that suggests that people process Dopamine differently.
According to Dr. Zald, there are "brakes" on individual's Dopamine release + re-uptake in the brain. Well, so? This means that some people will enjoy scary/spooky/risky situations because of their brakes, while others will not enjoy them at all.
Margee Kerr, Ph.D., sociologist, and author of “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear,” also has something to add to how we process fear can make us feel good. According to her, “Our body is a refined, well-oiled machine getting ready to fight or flee. So if we're in a situation where we know we're safe like a haunted house, scary movie, or roller coaster, think of it as hijacking the flight response and enjoying it." She even goes as far as saying, “This is similar to a high arousal state, not sexual, but like when we're happy, laughing, excited, or surprised. Those chemical signatures look similar to when we're scared; it's just a different context.”
So, like many things in life - context is key!
Like Kerr sugests, for anyone to truly enjoy a good scare is to know that we're in a "safe" environment. Thus, if a serial killer you'd seen on the news before started chasing you, you'd probably not be enjoying that at ll. However, if a guy dressed in a Jason mask in a haunted-field attraction started chasing you, you'd probably feel "safe" being scared, and even enjoy it.
But, it isn't just endorphins like Dopamine that puts us in a better place to enjoy being scared. In fact, there are a lot more reasons according to professionals who study the brain, like Dr. Zald. Being scared can also have some pretty positive after-effects, like gaining confidence.
The above picture is liscensed under creative commons 2.0 and is by Flickr user Dako Huang.