Why do we enjoy horror?
Clammy palms, heart racing, dry throat. Peering into the shadows wondering if what we saw was just a trick of the mind. Chest tight and of our senses are heightened, hyper-aware of the world around us.
Putting it like that, it’s hard to believe that many of us get scared for fun. Yet year after year scary video games, movies, books and haunted houses pop up everywhere we look. So what keeps us coming back to a genre that thrives on our discomfort?
The simple answer is it’s entertaining and it keeps us from being bored. Just like every other genre. But horror is ever-growing although it is not for everyone. I personally enjoy horror but it is more of a fascination than outright fear. I often find myself giggling during suspense and after a jump scare.
I’m not the only one. When we are introduced to frightening stimuli, for me it is usually the music or other auditory components, our bodies go into what is known as an adrenaline rush. In most cases an adrenaline rush causes a person to go into “Fight, Flight or Freeze.” Adrenaline is not the only chemical released when we are frightened. Endorphins and dopamine both known as “happy chemicals” are also released. Endorphins help relieve stress and dopamine increases pleasure.
The moment we stop feeling scared, startled or frightened, we begin to notice the endorphins and dopamine. We feel happy and our senses are heightened because of the adrenaline rush. While many simply feel satisfied or will giggle a bit, there is also a fair amount like me who burst into a flurry of giggles. Some of us even doing so before we get scared. This great feeling by itself is enough to keep bringing us back.
But, that isn’t all. Oftentimes when we watch horror movies or go to haunted houses, we aren’t alone. No, I’m not referring to the demons that suddenly show up in all the dark corners. I’m talking about your friends, family and possibly date that you are with. Whoever we choose to be frightened with, we will be closer to by the end.
When we go through the adrenaline, endorphin, and dopamine rush, our brains think we have lived through a life-threatening event. We associate the person or people we were with as those we went on a Jumanji-esque adventure with. This is why I believe there is no better first date than an amusement park or haunted house.
If we truly did feel unsafe when we engaged in horror entertainment we would never do it again. But here we are in front of our screens, nose in a book or venturing into the unknown time and time again. The truth is that even though we are scared we know that we are safe. We are in a controlled environment and know that at any moment we can tap out, look away, or close the book. We keep the perceived “danger” at a nice safe distance so that we still have control over the situation. This way we still reap the emotional benefits without needing to fight for our lives.
Some people even choose to use horror as a tool to help them in their everyday lives. By experiencing these intense emotions in a safe environment some people with anxiety use horror as a form of therapy. As someone with anxiety, I can understand where they are coming from. However, I find having anxiety makes me less scared or appear less scared because I’m so used to these emotions from things that aren’t scary. It’s really up to the individual.
With all of the adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins running through our blood. With all the bonds we strengthen without risking our lives. Whether horror scares you or not, it is hard to deny that for many of us the experience is an enjoyable one.