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Why do we like to get scared?

October is famed for being frightening, in a fun way; whether it’s a creepy costume, disquieting décor or a macabre movie, we love a good scare. But why exactly do we like the stuff that makes the hair stand up on the backs of our necks? In celebration of Halloween, the All Good Blog is taking a look at why we love to be scared.

That being said, it’s now time for a little BOO-ology

When something startles or scares us we have a physical reaction – we tense up, breathe faster, and our bodies prepare to respond to the perceived threat. When our brains understand that the risk is fake – like, say when watching a horror movie –  it  enjoys the adrenaline rush. Basically, when we know there is no real danger we can enjoy the scary stuff. This is all part of how our brains function in order to protect us, and give us the signal that we should freak out when things get scary.

The whole process sounds complicated, but on a basic level it isn’t. Fear often starts in our sensory cortexes – the parts of our brain that help us process what we see, touch, smell, taste and hear – and put those senses into context for us. For example, say something crawls across your leg – first thought might be “EEEEK! A rat!” because of a fear of rats brought on by an unpleasant camping experience as a kid. Or, it might say “Yay! It’s my beloved pet cat.” It’s all about context.

If say, you have a fear of rats, your cerebral cortex gets alerted, it then will pass the message along to the amygdala and insula – the parts of your brain that help you process emotion – and then you get scared. The brain will then produce energizing neurotransmitters in an effort to get you to react and get out of danger. (Like swat away the rat, jump on a chair and jump around screaming “eww, eww, eww”).

When the threat isn’t real, like if it was just a bit of fabric brushing up against you, the brain has already sent out the threat signal. This signal produces the hormone adrenaline which is responsible for dulling pain and producing endorphins. Endorphins are the things that make you really happy, they are also released when you are anticipating something nice. Adrenaline also has it’s perks,  one of them is it helps you feel more alive (unlike the poor campers in the horror movie that might have gotten you scared in the first place).

So the fun part of being scared is how your body and brain react to the signals that tell them to fight or run away. When we know we’re a-ok because it’s just a movie or story we can simply enjoy the effects.

Not everyone likes getting spooked though – for everyone who loves a horror movie there’s someone who knows that if they watch it they’ll have to go to sleep with the lights on. This might have a lot to do with how our brains are individually wired to experience different stimuli. Professor Glen Sparks says that one of the reasons folks love scary movies is because of how they feel afterwards (the adrenaline rush), it also could be because once the movie is done we focus instead on the experience of going, the fun we had with our friends. Other people don’t process their experience that way, instead they experience a less positive adrenaline rush – one without the huge rush of relief once the credits roll.

So tell us, do you like being a little scared? Are you one of the folks who likes a scary movie or one who opts out? Let us know in the comments.