SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Go ahead, scare us, because some of us like it.
People can get a look at horror and frightening things all year round but it’s particularly plentiful during October for Halloween. The key to why people like to be frightened is in the brain, two psychology professors said.
People can get pleasure from the fear or when the fright is over.
“This idea when we look at the brain and how it responds when we are fearful it’s not a whole different than how the brain responds when we have excitement,” Eric Clapham, a psychology professor at Black Hills State University. “We’re kind of looking at how we are labeling this physiology reaction. (Excitement and fear) both of those arouse the system. You can get excitement and joy from that arousal feeling.”
When a teenager escapes a slashing from a horror movie villain, the viewer’s brain may respond.
“Those negative emotions then convert to euphoria when the suspends ends,” Dr. Rebecca Martin, a psychology professor at South Dakota State University said of one theory of the attraction to horror movies. It’s an excitement theory that suspense leads to enjoyment, particularly with a resolution.
“Most of the time in horror movies, at least some good guy wins,” Martin said.
Another theory applied to horror movies is that arousal caused with the fear or suspense in the movie is self-rewarding, Martin said.
In general, why people like to be scared has been studied to include personality traits, Clapham said.
One personality trait of those attracted to scary things is thrill seeking.
“They find joy in some aspects of identity in doing scary things, doing threatening things,” Clapham said.
Those individuals enjoy the risk and fear associated with horror or scary things, Clapham said.
Thrill seeking is one of the most widely studied traits, Martin said.
“Somebody willing to take physical social, legal and financial risks…” Martin said of someone who may enjoy horror films.
The person’s age is closely connected with thrill seeking. The trait peaks in teenage years and declines thereafter.
Why get scared with others?
While there may not be as strong a connection between extroversion and horror movies as other personality traits, it’s still part of it, Martin said.
Extroverts may be enjoying horror with others. “It’s more like a communal thing, being scared together,” Martin said.
Clapham said there is research to show that laughter is part of why groups go to scary movies or haunted houses.
“Your body gets all aroused from fear or excitement or the thought of fear, once the threat is gone, your brain is still really active… the term we would use is aroused… we’re still really lively…,” Clapham said. When the threat is over, laughter often follows, he said.
If the group has watched a horror movie, it would be likely that it would talk about it after it ends, Martin said.
Attending a haunted house or going to a scary movie as a group is also part of being a social animal, Clapham said.
Boys like to get scared more than girls
“The most consistent individual predictor for (attraction to) horror films is biological sex,” Martin said.
One of Martin’s areas of research is gender and sex.
“Men and boys enjoy frightening material more than girls and women,” Martin said.
Men and boys are socialized not to be afraid and not to show fear, she said. There is no similar expectation for girls and women.
Is it OK to get scared?
“There is that fine line between fear and excitement,” Clapham said. But this time of year, it’s easier to know that the fear is not real, that the scary monster in the corner with a chainsaw is not going to hurt you, he said.
“Some people may not want blood and gore, but fine with the less dramatic graphic horror. Some aren’t going to want any of that at all,” Martin said. “You can be intense without being graphic.”
The level at which people may want to get scared depends on various personality traits, she said.
The anticipation of being frightened is part of the experience, Clapham said. Foreboding music may be playing on the screen and the view expects the monster and instead the cats jump from the corner.
Although people still get scared, it may take more to scare us than it used to.
“Our response to horror has changed dramatically in the last 100 years,” Martin said.
Older black and white movies about Dracula or the Wolfman don’t scare audiences like they did when they were first released, Martin said.
“(People) don’t even find them suspenseful let alone scary now,” Martin said.
But the fascination with fear and being scared remains today.
Sigmund Freud may describe it as a fascination with death as in his death drive, Martin said with a laugh. Although Freud’s theories are out of favor with most of today’s research in theories, Martin said, the death drive theory could still be somewhat applicable today even if it’s more than 100 years old.
In general, it’s ok to scare ourselves, Clapham said. And that would apply to safe options like the haunted hall by his office at BHSU or hiding behind a door at home or age-appropriate events this time of year.
There is research happening now on how fear can be used to help individuals with anxiety, he said.
The laughter and relief that can come when fear passes could be applied to anxiety, he said. Could those who may deal with anxiety lessen anxiety by recognition of relief, he said.