The Science Behind Spook: Why Do We Love Being Scared?

Scary Movie

Scary Movie | Miramax Films

What’s the deal with fear? Why do some people love seeing horror flicks, while others do not? Is the lure of crouching down in your movie theater seat and peeking through covered hands really that appealing? Well, for a lot of people, the answer’s yes. Even if there’s zero risk of harm to you personally, it’s likely seeing a gun-wielding murderer chase an innocent and screaming victim will leave you feeling jumpy. And why wouldn’t it?

It turns out, there’s actually some science behind why humans are so drawn to spook. And with Halloween just around the corner, we were interested in finding out the reasoning behind it all. If you’re a person whose perpetual love of being terrified is unending, you’ll want to read what we found. Before you visit your town’s annual haunted house, here’s why you have such a strong desire to go in the first place.

According to research from David Zald published on The Atlantic, whether a person enjoys being scared is largely due to the release of chemicals in their brain. Dopamine is one of the main hormones released during scary activities, and people react to it differently. Some people enjoy it, while others may not. And as Zald puts it, some people’s brains lack brakes on dopamine release and re-uptake.

Shameless

Shameless | Showtime

If you’ve ever seen Shameless, you’re all too familiar with the chaotic lifestyle the entire cast of characters lives. Well, when Fiona was accused of being addicted to chaos, it pretty much hit the nail on the head. She is so in love with the rush she gets from leading an unstable life, that she literally cannot stop, even though she knows her behavior is dangerous. She likes being in potentially threatening situations. And you don’t have to be some lying, scheming individual to enjoy the thrills of being scared. Your brain is releasing certain hormones as a signal of potential danger looming on the horizon.

As mentioned in Psychology Today, the threat of immediate harm triggers the fight or flight response. When this happens, your mind releases the necessary hormones your body needs to prepare for either sticking around and putting up a fight, or fleeing as fast as humanly possible from a threatening situation.

shadow with knife

Shadow holding a candlestick and knife | Thinkstock.com

In another Psychology Today article, Margee Kerr, Ph.D. says of the fight or flight response, “This sophisticated system triggers a chemical cascade meant to help us survive: adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin among others flood our bodies and brains during (and for a while after) a scary situation. But this response shares a lot with other high arousal responses, like when we’re happy, excited, and surprised.”

Additionally, surviving a scary experience, even if it’s just having watched a horror movie, can leave you feeling confident, as if you’ve just overcome a bad situation, and came out stronger at the end. Psychology Today says that for some, being scared in a safe place is a source of enjoyment, so long as they have particularly efficient dopamine and reward systems.

So, now that you know why you may love being scared to death, go forth and enjoy the Halloween season to its fullest.