Why do we enjoy fear?

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By Jethro Wegener

Products and experiences meant to terrify us are everywhere, especially now that Halloween is coming. Horror movies, haunted houses – they’re designed to scare us silly and too make our palms sweat and our hearts thud furiously in our chests.They do this because we like it – We enjoy fear, admit it, but have you ever wondered why?

What is Fear?

Fear is designed to keep us alive. It triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response in us, such as the tensing of the muscles, the increasing pulse, and the heightened focus and attention along with the release of  a whole bunch of chemicals (like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline) into the bloodstream. All this happens to allow our body to adequately react to the perceived threat, evolved from the  time when our ancestors were as likely to be devoured by a tiger as we are to pass a ‘Starbucks’ on the street.

Why it’s Fun

If there’s no imminent, then our brains signal to us that this is an enjoyable rush of adrenaline. In other words, it’s a thrill to be scared when we know for sure that we aren’t actually going to get hurt. The chemicals released by the brain are regarded as ‘feel good’, giving the body a kind of high that is pleasurable to the thrill seekers. All it takes is a moment for our brain to realise that we’re actually in no danger and interpret the response as fun, which is why you’ll see people burst out laughing seconds after letting out a scream at a jump scare in a haunted house.

Another reason we enjoy it is because fear can actually keep us away from other thoughts such as worrying. The way our body responds means we are very ‘in the moment’ at the time of the experience and this leads us to forget about our worries for a brief period. Some people even view it as an accomplishment – something to be proud of and to be able to brag about. The relief of sitting through a scary film all the way to the end is palpable and makes you feel braver.

Not for Everyone

Not everyone enjoys being scared however. Some people avoid horror movies like the plague, but this has actually been linked to our brain chemistry and not how brave we are. People who enjoy fear lack a ‘brake’ on the release of dopamine in their brain, meaning they experience more pleasure from the experience than someone with that ‘brake’ in place would. This is the reason some people giggle at the thought of the latest horror film, while others tremble. Basically, some people are hardwired to enjoy a good scare. Whether you’re one of them or you’re the one behind the sofa right now, you probably already know how you’re going to spend Halloween, either avoiding scares or seeking them out.

 

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