Why Do We Like to be Scared?

As Halloween approaches, it’s time for haunted houses, horror films and freaky outfits. Now is the time when we are supposed to get scared. And while many people consider fear to be a negative emotion, many of us truly enjoy the thrill of being scared. Given the fact that most psychologists agree that we are designed to seek out pleasure and avoid pain, why would this be?

Physiological

Fear initiates the body’s Fight or Flight response, which increases blood pressure, shortens our breathing and makes us sweat.  It’s a protective device from ages ago that readies our bodies for danger.  When the fear centers are removed from mice’s brains, they make no attempt to escape a hissing cat placed in front of them.  When we see a dark silhouette coming toward us holding a knife, it’s the fear response that has us ready to either run or fight.  In short, fear helps keep us alive.  And with that comes increased strength and focus. There are new physical and mental abilities.  These are positive things and the “rush” is something many of us relish. In other words, there are elements of fear that simply feel good, whether they are completely conscious or not.

Make your home trick-or-treat friendly.

Psychological

There’s another aspect, however, to the enjoyment of fear, as well as other “negative” emotions (such as sadness) we experience. Consider this: When we break-up with someone we care about, why is it that we tend to listen to sad music and watch depressing films/television shows?  Why do we sometimes gravitate towards those things that might actually increase our sadness?  It’s simply because sadness is normal and healthy.  It’s not a disease or syndrome, and our minds and bodies, to one degree or another, want to experience it in its entirety.  The same is true for fear.  It’s simply one emotion along the entire spectrum of feelings we experience, and when it comes, we often want to take it in as completely as possible.  The sinking into the abyss of these negative feelings is our minds’ way of living fully and comprehensively, not unlike our desire to feel happiness and other, more positive emotions as thoroughly as possible.

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If you’re not one of the many who enjoy the rush of a good scare and wonder why anyone would sit through 90 minutes of a gory film, you might want to reconsider how strange these urges are. In fact, the people in the theater might be living their life more fully, more absorbed in their psychology. That lack of avoidance, the immersion in fear, might just be their minds’ way of taking in all that life offers. 

Just a little something to consider this Halloween when the sun goes down…

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Check out Dr. Rob's new book, Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch

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