Virtually everyone knows what it’s like to feel really scared: A pounding heartbeat. Faster breathing. Nervous perspiration. Butterflies in the stomach.
But whether that fright is caused by watching a nail-biting horror movie, listening to a spine-chilling story, or prowling through a dark-as-night haunted house on Halloween, some people actually revel in feeling frightened. They thrive on the latest Horror movie or Stephen King novel and a substantial segment of the population actually likes engaging in challenges to their physical safety – like endurance tests and extreme sports. They relish roller coasters and perhaps even skydiving. They crave having the stuffing scared right out of them!
Of course, for the mere mortals among us who feel that we’re liable to lose our lunch after just a glimpse of a slasher movie, it may seem unimaginable that others actually enjoy panic-button experiences. But experts believe that it’s not uncommon for individuals to push the envelope, seeing how much fear they can tolerate, and ultimately feeling a sense of satisfaction when they’re able to endure the anxiety.
In case you haven’t noticed, its Halloween season (while out shopping you might have detected some Halloween decorations – right next to ALL the Christmas ones!)
This got me thinking; why do some people absolutely love to be terrorized by fear? Over the next few blog entries let’s look at a few reasons – first, the Physiological connection.
What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You
“There’s a long history of people being intensely curious about the ‘dark side,’ and trying to make sense of it,” says Frank Farley, PhD, psychologist at Temple University. “Through movies, we’re able to see horror in front of our eyes, and some people are extremely fascinated by it. They’re interested in the unusual and the bizarre because they don’t understand it and it’s so different from our everyday lives.” This speaks of a quest for knowledge, even if it is foolish and harmful. Some people just have to know what happens if they look under the bed after midnight, or open the closet door during a thunderstorm or take a shortcut through a dark graveyard on a night with a full moon. No matter the countless warning bells going off inside the human psyche, or the graphic mental images of every horror scenario our mind can replay- in Imax quality; we still hazard our lives by following the inner pull of “I just want to see what will happen.” Perhaps Freddy Kruger killed the curious cat! Some things are better left unknown.
For more than two decades, Glenn Sparks, PhD, has studied the way men, women, and children respond to terrifying images in the media. “It’s not that they truly enjoy being scared,” says Sparks, professor of communication at Purdue University. “But they get great satisfaction being able to say that they conquered and mastered something that was threatening. They enjoy the feeling that they ‘made it through.” Several studies have shown that males like scary films much more than females do. “Quite commonly, at the end of the terrifying movie, an individual may walk out of the theater with a profound sense of relief”, adds Sparks.
Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, has studied people who have what he calls “type T” (thrill-seeking) personalities. These men and women thrive on the uncertainty and the intensity associated with activities that most people consider to be hair-raising — from riding roller coasters to bungee jumping. “Sky divers will tell you it’s the thrill, the rush, and a little element of fear that motivates them to push themselves to the extreme,” he says.
As for children, an event like Halloween can provide an enjoyable and safe way to explore and experience fear, knowing that the goblins and witches stalking their neighborhood are only make-believe.
“They’re being given the license to probe at least the superficial anxieties about magical transformations, which, in the imagination of a child, are not completely foreign,” says John Rappoport, professor of psychology at Kansas State University. ”
People experience a very real sense of satisfaction when they face their fears – a movie theater provides a safe controlled environment to do so, as does knocking on creepy “Old Man Shepherd’s” front door when your parents are standing just a few feet away. After facing these fears we carry a strong sense of invincibility. Not exactly what our combat troops might feel, but for an adolescent it may be the greatest rush ever.
Check back for the next entry…if you DARE…