The Carnal Science Behind the Love of Fear

For myself and many of us here, this is our most favorite time of the year. I have always been drawn to the darker things. When I was a little kid my Grandpa used to call me “Spooky” because I loved to hear the same ghost stories over and over. Not much has changed, I still love spooky tales.

I never really considered this aspect of my personality. I seriously just thought everyone liked to be scared. That was until I became a mom. The majority (yes, I have enough kids to make a majority) of my offspring hate scary stuff. I have asked myself many times, where did I go wrong? What makes some of us love to be spooked and others not so much?

When we experience fear it is our body’s way of warning us about danger and begins when our sensory organs pass data to the thalamus in our brain. The thalamus passes these signals on to the amygdala. The amygdala is a small structure in the middle of the brain that sends signals throughout the brain telling all systems to be on high alert.

Respiration picks up and the heart beats faster to provide large muscles with more oxygen to fuel the flight or fight response. The extra blood rushed to the large muscles increase muscle tension that can literally cause us to quake in our boots. A physiological occurrence called piloerection happens. That’s when the small hairs on our arms and legs stand up resulting in what is commonly known as goose flesh, perhaps to make us appear larger. We sweat to keep our systems from overheating. Every system is hyper aware, we can smell and see more acutely. Why do some of us find this super fun?

We have all heard of adrenalin junkies.  Scientists who study the brain and fear refer to these people as “Type T” personalities; T for thrill seeking. They enjoy intense activities such as sky-diving. The above mentioned physical responses are enjoyable for them and they will seek out situations to induce the fear response.

For other types, it is more about how they feel after the experience is over; scientists refer to this as the “excitation transfer process”.  Even after the reading, hearing or watching of the spooky tale is over, the physiological changes linger, although we are not aware of it. What happens here is that any positive feelings, perhaps relief or having fun with fellow experiencers, are intensified. Think of it as a natural high.

Still for others, scares are a way to disrupt routine. We are wired to look for changes in our environment as a survival tactic. Something that we don’t see on a regular basis may signal a threat. With horror we can explore danger without really exposing ourselves to bodily harm. Consider slowing down to rubber-neck an accident.

Finally, there are folks like myself. People who are fascinated by the dark side and genuinely seek to understand it. Through horror media we have opportunities to examine the macabre in ways that our every day life could never offer. The best part is that the research never ends.

As a professional spooky story-teller I think it is important to understand the psychology of fear. That way I can use it against you in the most delicious way. For fans of horror it doesn’t really matter what it is in your make-up that makes a you fan, you just are! And we love you for it.