Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Haunted houses. Ghosts. Vampires. Monsters. When you watch a horror movie, do you scream or laugh? When you enter a haunted house, are you terrified or exhilarated? Both? Why do some of us enjoy being scared, while others would avoid it at all costs? Why do you love going to Fright Night every Halloween, while your friend could never be convinced to come with you? The truth is: we all have different responses to fear. It’s interesting that we take a day every year to celebrate fear.
One of the most common reasons we can feel nervous and excited at the same time is when you’re in a ‘safe space’ (like your room) and watch a scary movie. First your initial reaction will be fear, then you realize you are, in fact, safe, and that nothing will harm you. So, you begin to relax and maybe even enjoy the movie. A reason we like to scare ourselves is that we get a sense of achievement, even from just agreeing or paying to see something scary. We also want to feel like we belong in a group and create lasting memories with our friends.
But that still doesn’t explain why some of us love horror movies and haunted houses, and some of us hate them. Fear is an intense emotion, as well as happiness and anger. Therefore, we tend to associate fear with those emotions, even if we don’t always know we’re doing it. However, that is far from the whole story of why we all experience different feelings of fear. The real reason is that our brains are all wired a little bit differently from the person next to us, making the chemical reactions in our brains different, too. When we feel afraid, we tend to get a strong rush of adrenaline alongside with dopamine. Dopamine gives us a perpetually excited feeling people often get from drugs, and it is most intense when we enjoy a scary situation.
The thing is, some people don’t have something scientists call “brakes” on their dopamine, meaning that they could be prone to enjoying the thrill of horror and unsightly. On the other hand, the rest of us may not appreciate the creepy stories and horror movies so much. But that’s okay. Again, we are all different, and there’s a justifiable reason why people’s perception of fear differ.
The point is, do what you are comfortable with, but do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone sometimes, too. Your friends may be there to support you if you finally decide to watch that horror movie or enter that haunted house, but ultimately you have to make the best decision for you.
Written by Caitlin Astrom Dewitt