Why Do Some People Enjoy Being Scared?

Published on: 28 Oct 2016
women couch horror movie scared

There are two kinds of fear: the kind no sane person would pay for and the kind millions of people line up for.

The former comes from actual threats. Imagine someone attacked you on the street or a car almost ran you over. You would experience a rush of adrenaline from the fight or flight response, a sort of high. This feeling is pleasurable for some people, but no one can savor it when they believe their life is in danger.

Then there is the type of fear people pay for: thrills that scare you without presenting any physical threat. Think haunted houses, horror movies, roller coasters and scary video games. These horrors provide a controlled environment where people can enjoy the same rush of adrenaline and high that comes from real threats.

Some people love these thrills while others scoff at the idea of paying good money for something that might give them nightmares for days. It’s not only about personality and preference, though. The people who line up to get scared might have different brain chemistry, according to research from Vanderbilt University.

When we experience scary or thrilling situations, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that can act as a reward. Some people get more of a kick from this release than others, sociologist Margee Kerr told The Atlantic. They feel more pleasure because their brain is keeping the chemical around lounger.

For these people, the high is worth paying for. What they might believe is only a preference or personality trait can also be a neurological privilege. It’s something they can be grateful for, especially around Halloween.

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