Halloween is swiftly approaching, and that means a growing number of scary images, haunted houses, and multitudes of scary movies. Many of us wait all year for the scariest of them all, but it's absolutely baffling to see the growing numbers that flock to these attractions yearly. As a culture, why do we love and crave these panicking situations so much?
When we get the living daylights scared out of us, our hearts beat a little faster, our breaths get short, our stomachs drop out of our butts, and our body temperature rises. According to The Atlantic in an interview with sociologist Dr. Margee Kerr, "new research from David Zald shows that people differ in their chemical response to thrilling situations. One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine, and it turns out some individuals may get more of a kick from this dopamine response than others do. Basically, some people’s brains lack what Zald describes as “brakes” on the dopamine release and re-uptake in the brain. This means some people are going to really enjoy thrilling, scary, and risky situations while others, not so much." Science experts say it's not odd that people crave to see how far they can go to prove they can handle more anxiety than they thought -- as if college and life, in general, doesn't make us anxious enough.
In addition, hormone levels rise when a person is terror stricken. This can create the love component of our obsession with feeling scared, much like a first kiss can. The moment we get scared, we feel the "flight or fight" reaction that gives us an intense adrenaline rush, making us more emotional.
On a psychological level, we love the forbidden. Take Adam and Eve, for example: They went for that particular apple because they weren't supposed to. Or an adolescent girl going for the "bad boy" because it's exactly who she shouldn't be dating. Horror movies, haunted houses, and scary decor allow us to enjoy this feeling but technically still stay safe. This attracts people because it differs from the everyday routine and, therefore, creates thrill.
And while these attractions give us anxiety, the release of fear at the end is known to lower anxiety levels as well. Go figure.
Finally, spooky stories help us form a strong emotional connection. We, as humans, often question the unknown, and the debate on the existence of paranormal activity is a hot topic. These deep and disprovable topics allow for the brain to contemplate what is beyond 2 inches in front of us as we grow intellectually in our own views. In addition, The Atlantic also backs this by stating that "One of the reasons people love Halloween is because it produces strong emotional responses, and those responses work to build stronger relationships and memories. When we’re happy, or afraid, we’re releasing powerful hormones, like oxcytocin, that are working to make these moments stick in our brain." Overall the emotional connection tells the mind to find relief in the scary moments and crave to relive those connecting moments.
Overall, having attended a haunted house less than 24 hours ago, I feel more relaxed and had a lot of fun. At the time, my heart rate rose, my breath shortened, and my anxiety levels were through the roof, but afterwards, I was laughing and felt happier than ever -- significantly more relaxed than beforehand.
These components explain why society loves to be afraid and ultimately clarify why I waited three hours outside to go through a 15-minute attraction.
Personal pleasure can vary, but these scary temptations aren't going anywhere. So pack an extra pair of underwear, bring a friend, and go test your limits. You'll feel good after you do.