Scare me—a little

Brooke+Palmer

Brooke Palmer

I’ve heard it said that there are two types of people around Halloween: those who enjoy being scared and those who don’t. I’d say it’s accurate to think of the scare spectrum in terms of hot sauce. Most people like hot sauce, but some like a mild level, some medium, and others like extreme heat. So what exactly makes some people wired to crave extreme fear?

According to psychology, it’s a lot of things.

We all undergo the same physiological experience when we get scared; it heightens the sense of excitement in our bodies. This excitement carries on long after the initial scare of a movie or a trip through a haunted house exhibit. The heightened physiological arousal is transferred to the experience after the scare. This means that if you are having fun with your friends after being frightened, that experience is stored in your memory as a really good experience; if it has been a not-so-fun evening, that experience is stored as a particularly negative one.

So it’s not just the wiring of each person, but the experience as a whole. In fact, it has been proven that enjoying abstract art is best done after watching a scary movie; the work is viewed as more “sublime” because of the heightened physiological state the artist is in.

So, if we all have the same physiological experience with our heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration increasing, why do some people love the feeling of fear and others can’t bear it? ”

So if we all have the same physiological experience with our heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration increasing, why do some people love the feeling of fear and others can’t bear it?  Why do some of us insist on watching scary movies from behind hand-covered eyes?

Some people are simply more empathetic than others, and those individuals often do not like the scare as much. I believe that those with more creative and imaginative brains would also find scary things—particularly horror images—more frightening than the rest of us.

On the other hand, it has been proven that extremely creative people are drawn to the imagery and the “how” of how the images are created more than the rest of us. Effectually, fear is a negative emotion, so if we are feeling threatened in some way, it is not soon forgotten.

According to Glen Sparks, media effects expert from Purdue University, “. . . negative emotion gets stored in the amygdala in the brain, and the amygdala functions for us to take those negative experiences and hold on to them for a long time so that they can be called up again if we ever get into a situation where the brain’s telling us, ‘Hey, this is that situation again. You’re under threat’” (Christobal, 2019).

This explains why many people are afraid to swim in the ocean long after watching victims get eaten in shark-infested water movies like Soul Surfer. 

Then, there are those who love a good scare, the kind that elicits a piercing scream. These are your friends who have no problem being on the “edge” of the group or in the front when you walk through a haunted house. Those individuals tend to love the feeling of “conquering” things; they like the feeling afterwards of living through the emotion. They also tend to love roller coasters. 

I also love roller coasters, and this past weekend I watched a few festive movies:  I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream. Both were thoroughly enjoyable in the safety of my house with my doors locked. Bring on the fright and go ahead and scare me—a little.