Why Do We Enjoy Being Scared?

You wake up in a cold sweat with a feeling of dread, like someone has been watching you. As you look around the room and your eyes slowly start adjusting, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck rise. You realize you’ve been holding your breath, and as you shakily breathe out, you can see see the puff of air in front of you. Your heart is pounding. But as your eyes keep adjusting and time passes, everything seems… normal. You look around, nothing is out of place, it was just a nightmare, right? Perhaps the weather changed, and you forgot to turn on the heater. As you chuckle, thinking how silly all of this is, your shoulders slowly start relaxing and you feel a little more at ease. You pull the blanket back up, lay down, and as you start drifting again you happen to flutter your eyes one last time, and right above your head- staring deep into your eyes- you see it. Hanging from the ceiling. “AAAHHHH!”

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Whether or not you are a fan of the horror genre, there is no denying that many, many people enjoy it. The amount of money the industry makes every year, especially around Halloween alone, is staggering, and scary story-telling and horror-based activities have been around for millenia!

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In 2017, the horror film industry grossed approximately $1,000,000 which was one of the biggest years of the 2010s, mainly thanks to titles such as It, Get Out, and Split. That isn’t the only way that the genre makes an impact around the world or makes money either; other sectors of horror would include part of the video game industry, namely the Resident Evil series and Silent Hill. Along with horror novels, short stories, or perhaps the SCP Foundation’s horror filled section of their website, anywhere you look you can absorb some intense stories.

Another way people can find some thrills are via haunted houses or other “scary experiences.” The industry for these types of activities bring in hundreds of millions of dollars every Autumn, and it’s easy to see why. Between haunted houses, spooky corn mazes, ghost hunting, or interactive haunts in homes and forests, the options are endless.

Since Halloween has morphed from being a holiday on the 31st of October to being an entire season filled with activities, billions are invested every season to bring the biggest frights. Costumes and candy certainly count for a big chunk of that, but the attractions have been steadily growing in the past few decades. You can visit one of the largest record-breaking haunts in Texas called “Cutting Edge,” go to a real-life prison to experience “Terror Behind the Walls” in Philadelphia, test your survival skills at McKamey Manor in either Tennessee or Alabama, or if you’re near The Nerdd, go to Fear Factory in Salt Lake City.

But WHY do all these people spend money on movies or activities to almost wet their pants? This question get asked frequently especially due to the fact that fear is something we actively avoid as humans. But the horror industry tells the opposite story; and people come back again and again to experience the same spooks.

No Real Risk

One of the main reasons that people can enjoy being scared, is because the industry is designed to make sure that there isn’t actually any risk (unless you sign up for that sort of thing). Our brain recognizes that though something may be scary in a movie, we ourselves aren’t in danger, therefore we can enjoy the “fun” of whatever is taking place. We can explore what our own response would be in a controlled environment without having the real consequences.

Adrenaline Rush

If you are a fan of roller-coasters or extreme sports, some may call you an adrenaline junkie. The same idea works for other types of thrill-seekers, especially when it comes to fear-based activities. Typically what happens when you experience fear is that your brain will release neurochemicals and hormones that prepare you for the “fight or flight” response. There are more complicated things that happen within those few split-seconds, but if you can get past it and, in a sense, overcome whatever fear is in front of you, many experience a sort of natural high. This is where the rush of adrenaline kicks in, which releases endorphins and dopamine that can leave us with a sense of euphoria.

Accomplishment & Community

Many people are drawn back to horror again and again because of the way they feel after “defeating” whatever brought them fear initially. If you are able to push your own boundaries and deal with the fears, anxiety, and stress of the situation, a sense of satisfaction kicks in. If you’ve ever been to a theater after a scary movie is finished, or been to a haunted house when people are coming out, you’ll see smiles, hugs, high-fives, and the like because you got through it together! If you’re with others, clinging to them through the experience, relationships are deepened and your sense of community is heightened.

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Another reason why the genre is popular is similar to why we love fantasy or sci-fi. We love our favorite outlets because of the joy it brings us, and we’re able to disappear from the real world for awhile into an alternate universe. While you’re in the midst of running away from some zombie or peeking through your eyes seeing what happens to the characters in a film, you aren’t worrying about your day-to-day life; you are in that moment. That’s what entertainment is all about, and horror certainly knows how to pull you away from your dreary office job!

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It is worth noting that while there are several reasons that people genuinely enjoy being scared within reason, some don’t like scary things at all- even if they know it isn’t real. Sometimes that may be tied with a bad previous experience, or a phobia, and that is okay! No one is required to enjoy horror, but the good thing is there are plenty of other fun genres, and for those who do like this season- there are plenty of scares to go around.

How do you like to be scared? Let us know in the comments below!

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