We know that the brain is wired for compassion and that the teen brain is easily stimulated by technology. We even know that our thoughts can change the structure of our brain. But what do we know about the brain and fear? Why do children want their parents to check for monsters under their beds, and yet, as they become adolescents, they are the largest audience for horror movies?
Research points to many reasons that may explain why some of us seek out scary situations.
Fear stimulates a natural high
When we are afraid, our bodies go into fight or flight mode, which can flood the brain with adrenaline and other feel-good chemicals. As Margee Kerr, a sociologist and author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear, explains, as long as we know we are in a safe environment, “we can enjoy the endorphins and the dopamine. That response is similar to being really excited and happy.” So, as it turns out, fear may cause to jump, but it may also launch us into a pleasurable state.
Another explanation is that, when induced in a safe environment, fear can actually result in a sense of relief. According to John Edward Campbell, an expert in media studies at Temple University, “[Horror] provides a cathartic effect, offering you emotional release and escape from the real world of bills and mortgages and the economy and relationships.”
Fear satisfies our craving for vicarious stimulation
Candy is not the only thing many people crave this time of year. Many people often seek out fearful situations so that they can experience something without actually having to go through it themselves. This may explain why fear-inducing scenarios are popular among younger generations and “sensation seekers.” It may also explain why older people are typically less interested in horror movies and other fear-inducing activities. As Campbell says, to adults, “real life is scary enough.”
In some ways, navigating fearful situations resembles practicing mindfulness, as Kerr’s research aims to help people make sense of their feelings: “We’re trying to find the best ways to teach people how to experience their emotions in ways that are healthy and not debilitating.”
Fear helps us build resilience
Experts also point to the fact that many people situate themselves in fearful situations to test their boundaries. As Kerr explains, “When people lean into the experience and test themselves in an environment that is safe, they come to learn they can handle stress and they are stronger than they thought they were.” When we have endured a scary situation, we’ve proven to ourselves that we can overcome something challenging.
So, putting yourself in fearful situations (or at least artificial ones) may actually boost your sense of confidence in handling the uncertain. At BodiMojo, we are all for building resilient youth. So, if you enjoy haunted houses, corn mazes, or horror films, carry on — it may even help you bounce back from the ups and downs of real life.