The Satisfaction Of Fear

Turning the corner of a dark, quiet hallway of an empty house, the coast seems to be clear. Although what sounds like lightning, thunder and an overly dramatic rain pitter patter are the only real sounds interrupting the silence, the perception of a presence unknown rattles all rationale.

Turning the next corner, you once again release a sigh of relief. A calm feeling starts to soothe anxieties until suddenly you are met face to face with an all too familiar hockey mask and red dripping blade as screams of terror fill the air.

And then of course, this well mimicked Jason from the Friday the 13th series runs away to scare another well-paying customer, as he can’t actually touch you. That would most likely turn into something of a horrifying lawsuit.

Reaching the end of a haunted house is always a weirdly satisfying feeling. When you’ve reached the end, it can be reflected as a fun and harmless enterprise, but during, you were scared for your life to put it plainly, although you were aware that this was not an actual life threatening situation. Immediately after screaming bloody murder, most remember where they are and find themselves laughing nervously and smiling in relief.

But as you pass the fake blood-covered dry walls and papier-mâché decapitated heads with sweaty palms and a fast-paced heart, you ask yourself, “Why the hell am I enjoying this?”

Feeling fear is an extremely visceral emotion, as it functions as a trigger to tell the brain that we are in danger and need to experience the fight or flight adrenaline rush to survival. Even though you as the adventurer of said haunted house are completely and consciously aware that you are not in real danger, emphasized by a lighter feeling in your wallet from the overpriced entrance fee, your brain cannot process that this Freddy Kruger impersonator is “not a real” threat.

Getting a bit scientific for a moment, our brains are lightning fast at processing the presence of a threat, and reacting in a physical way that will ensure survival. This process is so quick that it’s speed cannot be matched by any rational thought that could soothe the instinctual adrenaline rush implemented by a fearful brain.

This same principle goes for the viewing of a horror film. Despite the fact that people of our generation and younger have been raised in a world of technology, our “old brain” which governs our reactions still does not understand the existence of fraudulent danger. Our inability to process the immediate difference between a real threat and fake threat is what lingering effects of watching a horror movie can be accredited to.

It is suspected that the brain stores the memories of fear in order to sustain the ability to react in a more prepared way, should the same threat present itself in the future. Finding yourself with a certain jumpiness or “on-edge” feeling in a darkness you deem similar to the peril of one of Jack Torrance’s victims is caused by your brain’s ability to regenerate emotions and reactions that would help you escape a hazardous situation.

Returning to the question of why we enjoy putting ourselves through these lovely, morbid escapades, the ability to experience the adrenaline rush and excitement that comes with reactions of horror without any actual consequence is what draws our thrill seeking spirits to. Of course, some people enjoy scary experiences much more than others.

One of the main hormones released when watching horror movies or taking a stroll into a haunted house is dopamine. For some people, their dopamine release and re-uptake rate is more active than others, which makes the experience more enjoyable for individuals such as these.

Our extremely human and extremely irrational hunger for thrilling adventure can be temporarily satiated by anything from an amusing, exhilarating roller coaster at Disney World to a flickering screen displaying chilling murders and blood curdling screams. We allow our imaginations to run wild with possible solutions for what happens in the unknown realm of death, and this causes our peaked interest in these fictional, eerie activities.

Humans tend to have an obsession with death and the supernatural, and fabricated situations of terror allow us to explore this perception in the form of a comfy chair a safe distance away from the movie screen or a haunted house among brave friends. Our curiosity heightens as we attempt to see each frightening escapade we invest in to its conclusion … although curiosity did kill the cat, sorry to ruin the ending.