Why do we like to be scared?

David Girvan | May 19, 2014

1. Physiological Arousal, or The ‘Adrenaline Rush’

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When we feel threatened, our senses and intuition become heightened and we can experience an increase in strength and power. This increase in mental and physical capacity is commonly referred as an ‘adrenaline rush’, named after the primary hormone involved.

The threat could be from an axe-wielding maniac in your home, or just one on TV; its effect on the body remains the same. Looking back millions of years shows that humans have always been drawn to this feeling. It is older than man, and is tied to our very survival; without it, we’d have gone extinct long ago. So it seems logical that today human beings would construct a means by which we can experience this fear and excitement in a safe, comfortable setting. Which is where horror films come in! Read More

2. Gender Socialization

Hammer Films

Research suggests that more men are prone towards scary movies than women. But do men really ‘enjoy’ them? According to PhD Glenn Sparks, “men are socialized to be brave and enjoy threatening things… Men may derive social gratification from not letting a scary film bother them… It’s the idea of mastering something threatening”. Read More

3. The Excitation Transfer Process

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You know the feeling: you’re walking out of the cinema after a terrifying ordeal you were scared wasn’t going to end, but instead of feeling shaken and in need of a long lie down with the lights on, you actually feel empowered, invigorated, ‘high’ even. This is called the “excitation transfer process”.

According to Prof. Glenn Sparks, “After the film is over, [a sense of] physiological arousal lingers. (We’re just not aware of it.) That means that any positive emotions you experience – like having fun with friends – are intensified, he said. Instead of focusing on the fright you felt during the film, you recall having a great time. And you’ll want to come back for more”. Read More

4. It brings you closer together with others

Cube Cinema

Are you more attached or attracted to someone you meet in a fearful situation, as opposed to one you’ve met in low stress circumstances?

Yes, in a manner of speaking. When we’re happy or afraid, the powerful hormones our bodies release make these moments stick in our brain, so we will tend to have a stronger memory of the people we’re with. If it was a good experience- at a rerun of The Devil Rides Out perhaps- we’ll think of the people fondly and feel closer to them; if it was a more questionable, unexciting event- at a rerun of The Tourist perhaps- we can be more likely to remember the person without much enthusiasm. Read More

5. Preparing for Adulthood

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As children enter into young adulthood- arguably the most challenging and character defining stage in life- many begin connecting with their own need to survive in the world on a more profound psychological level than older cinema-goers. There is a case for this being the reason that horror movie audiences are predominantly made up of teenagers and young adults. Are they perhaps preparing for the survival tasks of adulthood? Read More

6. Dopamine

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New research from David Zald shows that the human chemical response to a thrilling situation will differ from person to person. One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine and it appears that, while some people get a buzz from this dopamine response, others miss out on the high. The reason for this is that some people’s brains are unable to push the “brakes” on their dopamine release and re-uptake in the brain; consequently these people are going to really enjoy thrilling, scary, and risky situations while others, not so much. Read More

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