The Psychology of Being Scared
During the month of October, thrill seekers all over line up for haunted houses and horror movies, hoping to be scared.
Fear, an emotion that is often thought of as a negative response, is suddenly something people desire around Halloween time.
Paul Biner, a psychology professor who teaches a class on emotion and motivation, explains why so many people enjoy feeling fear.
“Not everyone is afraid of haunted houses,” Biner said. “There’s a type of personality.”
People that have this personality trait are called sensation seekers, he said.
These sensations seekers have what Biner calls a low base rate, meaning they need more arousal to be stimulated. They enjoy activities like haunted houses, paragliding and bungee jumping. Biner said that while his family enjoys thrills, he does not.
“I’ve got a really high arousal rate and I’m not a sensation seeker at all,” he said. “I’ve been on roller coasters and I thought I was going to die. That feeling was not good, so I stay away from haunted houses [and] roller coasters.”
Fifty percent of the population doesn’t like haunted houses or being scared, while the other half enjoys the thrill, Biner said.
Junior Jen Richardson has attended both Scarevania Haunted House and the Haunted Forest. She said she enjoys going to haunted houses because the sensation of being scared is fun to her.
“It’s really fun to laugh at my friends since they get more scared than I do,” Richardson said.
According to Psych Central, even after a haunted house or a scary movie is over, people will still experience arousal. Positive emotions are intensified, and people are more likely to remember having fun with friends more than the scary events.
The reason people enjoy these haunted experiences is that people go in expecting to be frightened, Biner said.
“The key is controllability,” he said. “[People] don’t like unexpectedly being scared or being blasted with noise. At least when things are in control you can brace for them and prepare yourself for the loud noise.”
Expecting the fear that comes with haunted houses and scary movies is part of what makes a positive emotional response possible.
In an article in The Atlantic, a sociologist at ScareHouse explains that being scared produces a strong emotional response, which builds stronger relationships and makes people feel closer. When people are afraid, they release hormones that make them connect with one another.
Junior Emily Combs, who works at the Haunted Forest, said she loves everything about Halloween, especially haunted houses.
“I think people like being scared,” Combs said. “Maybe because it’s a thrill. I don’t think people like actually being terrified but there’s something friendly about this fear. It’s like an adrenaline rush.”
Biner said that despite the reasons many people enjoy haunted attractions, he hasn’t been to a haunted house in the past 30 years, and doesn’t plan to any time soon.