Why We Like Fear

fear boo

Only one person in ten claims to enjoy fear. So why is Halloween such a thrill? It’s just around the corner. The warm and carefree attitude of summer has gone. Those among us who are particularly perceptive notice they feel a bit rushed to get things done. Maybe it’s a natural response to ancestral DNA, getting the last of the harvest in before winter. More likely, it’s a natural response to the cooler temperatures, increasing darkness, and the things that may lurk there.

Fear fans are definitely the minority! But if most of us don’t like it, why do we devote a day – and more importantly, a night – to fear? There are three key reasons based on our psychology.

Fear venn
Handy Fear Venn Diagram

First, fear is novelty and thrill-seeking behavior for the adrenaline rush. It’s a physiological arousal linked to positive events (meaning, typically fun and social). Fear is inspirational and challenging. Under-aroused people are the ones most likely to be fear fans, which explains why it’s always those you’d least expect to have the freaky back tattoo or gambling habit or are serial killers – they really enjoy the change from their minimally-arousing daily monotony.

She's seen all the Final Destination movies.
She’s seen all the Final Destination movies.

Besides that, fear creates a back-of-the-mind feeling of control despite the thrill – explaining why many people develop an interest in horror or the supernatural somewhere around puberty – the young brain is seeking new experiences in a relatively safe context as a way to learn to cope with fear. (This is why older folks and those who are more high-strung aren’t as interested – real life is scary enough, thank you.) The control concept makes sense. If you’re a horror movie fan, you know there’s a formula: the kid who goes off alone at the beginning is the first to get killed, followed by the couple who disregard the warning and sneak off to have sex. It’s balance. It’s some sort of Victorian justice for violating common sense and moral codes. All Hallows Eve is followed by All Saints Day. Balance and control.

Conflict: I have fond memories of this house. And some truly creepy ones.
Conflict: I have fond memories of this house. And some truly creepy ones.

But there’s a third component. People are capable of experiencing two distinct emotions at the same time, and appreciate the conflict of the two. Because of the conflict it causes, some people enjoy the feeling of fear. They’re the ones who grin maniacally from the summit of the roller coaster all the way down the drop. To a lesser degree, there’s the football fan who feels simultaneous excitement and disappointment when the team is behind. At the heart of it, fear is a warning signal. But in semi-controlled circumstances, fear is a way to distance ourselves from the daily norm and get a little better acquainted with darker, more sinister alternatives. It allows us to pay homage to our barbaric cultural ancestry, without feeling any need to act on it.

I’ve never considered myself a fear fan. My days are interesting and I’m not much of an adrenaline junkie. And yet. Horror is my favorite fiction. Poe, King, Barker, bring it on. The best part of any roller coaster is definitely that drop from the top. And I’m a nyctophiliac. (Read that carefully.) Darkness is no more scary than daylight; it’s just that different things dwell there.

Fear: Love it? Or leave it alone?
Fear: Love it? Or leave it alone?

What about you? Are you in the majority, or are you a fear fan? Please share your thoughts and comments – and while you’re sharing, a like is always appreciated. Whatever you’re doing this season, be safe but have fun!

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1 thought on “Why We Like Fear

  1. I’m a lover, not a thrill-seeker! You’d think I’d enjoy a change from my every day nap monotony, but I’m good with it.

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