As a culture, the horror industry thrives on people getting scared, and the best part for them is, that people actually love it. It is officially spook season and this is a great time to think about why we actually love getting scared. There have been a lot of studies to understand why exactly humans enjoy the idea of being spooked, and why self-scaring is actually a very popular trend since the beginning of time.
One of the first instances of the joys of self-scaring was actually the concept of roller coasters. Earlier in the seventeenth century, metal rods and automated heavy carriages didn’t exist, obviously. Rather, in the mid-seventeenth century, there was something called as the Russian Ice Slides, which, very loyal to its name, were basically sleigh rides down the snowy mountains. People enjoyed this concept thoroughly, even though it was quite frightening, considering there was no sense of safety. It became a little more sophisticated in the eighteenth century, with installations of wooden beams for support and also artificial ice mountains for the aesthetic. A few people also started painting the walls with scary scenes to heighten the sense of fear, or even excitement.
If you look at the scientific side of spook and fear, it has been recorded that our body releases dopamine when we get scared, so that is probably what is getting us so excited about haunted houses and scary movies. Although, the entire human population doesn’t really thrive on the feeling of fear, there are many who steer away from these experiences entirely. Is it that the dopamine doesn’t work in them? Not exactly. To simplify it, some of our brains put the brakes on the release of dopamine after a certain amount. Some of ours don’t, and that’s why we get the feeling of an adrenaline rush. Humans are very drawn to this phenomenon, it gives us a sense of excitement, jitter, and even nervousness; but all of these feelings combined feel great inside.
There is also a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we experience something scary or spook ourselves out and get through it, it’s like we prove to ourselves that we’re capable of handling more anxiety than we originally thought we could. Also, doesn’t it feel important to expose ourselves to these foreign sensations? They are something different from our daily set of routine sensations, and it helps us to stay stimulated in life. It’s like letting go of pent-up fears, almost a cathartic feeling if you look at it a certain way.
It is evident that humans have an appeal to experience something bizarre, dark, or even forbidden. This is why horror movies are so popular; they portray all the experiences that we’d probably never experience ourselves, either because they’re too far-fetched, or because they are set in a different time and place. Another reason why we enjoy scary movies so much is because in the end, and also through it all, we know we’re safe. We know it’s fictional, or that it happened decades ago, so a sense of safety and security brings out the confidence and lets us actually enjoy this genre.
Even when you look at literature, the very concept of gothic fiction and horror was introduced in the nineteenth century, with novels like ‘The Castle of Otranto’, and ‘Frankenstein’. These novels gained popularity because they gave readers feelings of spook, intrigue, sublimity, exhilaration and for some, even jolts of excitement. If you look at the example of ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley, the core concept is a monster that breaks loose. Monsters and creepy legends terrify us because they defy the laws of nature, and when our brains can’t comprehend that, or can’t fit the feeling into a particular box or category, we feel uncomfortable or challenged, and that perhaps is the point of horror: to push our limits and test our abilities so we can be familiar with the unfamiliar.