The Psychology of Fear

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The month of October is famous for scary movies, haunted houses, and costumes of all kinds. Why would one enjoy a holiday so centered around fear?

Not everyone enjoys being afraid. Melanie Ward, freshman at Snow College, isn’t one who personally seeks out fear, “I hate Halloween. I don’t respond well to haunted houses, or scary movies or anything.” Some people, however, seek out fear to add more thrill to their life.

First, the natural high from the fight or flight response can feel great. There is strong evidence that this isn’t just about personal choice, but brain chemistry.

Kade Lister, a sophomore at Snow College, voices, “I love experiencing fear because it gives you such a rush of adrenaline. I like exploring spooky places because I enjoy the certain feeling they give me when I go in them.”

A research project conducted by David Zald, shows that people differ in their response to terrifying situations. One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine. Some individuals get more of a kick from this dopamine response than others do.

Lots of people enjoy scary situations because it leaves them with a sense of confidence after it’s over. The recollection of the feeling after coming out of a haunted house is often, “Yes! I did it! I made it through!” This can be a self-esteem boost for some.

Taking a romantic partner to a haunted house adds to the fun of being scared. There’s a common belief that if one meets somebody for the first time in a fearful situation, they’ll feel more attached or more attracted to that person than if they were to meet them in a low-stress situation.

One of the reasons people love Halloween is because it produces strong emotional responses. In return, those responses work to build stronger relationships and memories. Emotions such as fear and happiness release powerful hormones, like oxytocin, that help the brain remember the moments and the people.

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. Leon Rappoport, PhD describes Halloween as something similar to an exorcism, allowing children to work through and release built up emotions and anxieties.

Fear triggers different emotions for different people. How will fear add to the excitement of this Halloween season? It’s all up to the individual.

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