Halloween – the Psychology of Fear
By Lynn Blamires Content Writer for My Local Utah
It starts earlier in the year than October. Stores start displaying Halloween costumes, candy, and outdoor displays in September. Soon they start popping up in people’s yards – blow up jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and ghouls. Turning the lawn into a graveyard is also popular. It seems like the celebration of Halloween gets bigger every year. Some houses feature huge displays – so big that I wonder where they store all that stuff for the rest of the year.
People Love Halloween
People have their favorite Halloween movies and there is an anticipation of the haunted houses opening. They make enough money in two months to pay staff and to fashion new features to draw next year’s crowd.
As a young man, it didn’t take me long to learn the advantages of taking a date to a scary movie. What better way to get a hug than to take your date to a haunted house? 60,000 people a year go through Nightmare on 13th at least once.
What Attracts People to Haunted Houses?
An article in the Washington Post (October 31, 2016) was helpful in understanding the answer to that question.
A young lady wrote: “All my friends are trying to convince me to go to this super creepy haunted house thing for Halloween. Personally, I hate being scared, and every year I try to avoid going to these things. I scream my head off the whole time. My friends do, too, but then they always seem to be having so much fun by the end! Why do they like being scared out of their wits?”
Fear Can Give a Weird Kind of High
Fear puts us into a physical state where we are primed for danger. It is referred to as the “Fight or Flight” response and it can give us a weird kind of high. “Fear gives us a rush of hormones that make us faster and stronger, and back when the world was a more (immediately) dangerous place, people who lacked that response probably didn’t survive to pass on their genes to future generations.”
Adrenaline Plays a Role
“As our hearts speed up and we breathe more rapidly, our muscles get more blood with more oxygen in it, which is what we need to fight the danger or flee from it as fast as we can. A hormone called epinephrine (which you probably know as adrenaline) is released to trigger these superpowers, and it can wind your body up so tightly for action that it makes you shake in your boots.”
Fear Is a “High Arousal” Response
Physically, if you can survive the fright, it can feel pretty amazing. “Fear is negative, but it’s also what we call a ‘high arousal’ response. And those feel good.”
Margee Kerr, a sociologist and author who specializes in fear said, “When we’re in a safe place, we can interpret that threat response as we do any high arousal response like joy or happiness. The response is triggered by anything unpredictable or startling. But when we’re in a safe place and we know it, it takes less than a second for us to remember we’re not actually in danger. Then we switch over to enjoying it. It’s a kind of euphoria. That’s why you see people go right from screaming to laughing.”
Fear As a Distraction
Kerr thinks that we also enjoy fear as a distraction. “Calling up our fight-or-flight response tamps down our conscious thinking.” We forget about the things left undone or other pressing matters.
“There’s also a sense of achievement, however silly that may sound. We stressed ourselves and came out okay. Even though we knew we were safe going in, we feel we accomplished something.”
The Social Aspect of Fear
“Social bonding is also a big component: When people get scared in groups, the high arousal triggers the formation of a particularly strong memory. The shared intensity can also sort of trick you and your friends into feeling like you’ve all accomplished something as a group.” Even though you have paid good money to be scared, you came with friends who just might scream louder than you do. And then, you will do it all over again, but not alone.
I took the tour of the haunted rooms in the Nightmare on 13th. Did I go alone? No!! I wanted to feel safe, so I took my kids. However, sometimes I think they were laughing at me instead of with me.
Others like the one who asked the question, can’t seem to feel safe enough to enjoy the adrenalin rush. My oldest son still has scars from the scratches he got from his mom when he thought it would be funny to jump out and say “Boo.”
Which Kind of Person Are You?
Which kind of person are you? Do you just love a scary movie or do you get excited about going to a haunted house with your friends? Or are you one who hates scary movies and being a mile away from a haunted house is too close. Your friends could change your mind.