Story by Hollye Carroll
Photo by Bailey Walker
We all know there are two types of people: those who enjoy being scared and those who do not. There are countless reasons why an individual could prefer the trick to the treat — but it turns out there is psychology behind this phenomena.
In order to fully understand the intrigue behind the enjoyment, it is important to understand what happens to our bodies when we experience fear.
“Fear is a necessary emotion for our existence,” Richard Wedemeyer, a Rose State psychology professor said. “Without fear, we would stand a poor chance of survival. When our brains register a threat, a cascade of stress hormones initiate our fight-or-flight response. Blood pressure rises, our digestion shuts down, pulse rate and blood pressure go up, breathing becomes more rapid and blood sugar rises.”
The horror genre has countless fans and conventions are held all over the world. The Oklahoma Horror Film Festival and Convention, held annually in Tulsa, has even merged with the Tulsa International Film Festival to create their own category known as The Nightmare Division.
Brad Burris, 30, of Oklahoma City has been a fan of horror films for as long as he can remember. His mother was a big fan as well, and his earliest memories are of having movie marathons on stormy weekends. Burris appreciates the genre because it explores fear and introspection.
“I like the genre because it explores fear, which, to me, is perhaps the most subjective emotion,” Burris said. “I feel you learn more about yourself by watching horror [films] than you would from drama [films].”
Psychology can also explain why someone might be more inclined to enjoy, for example, a haunted house.
“There are different levels of response and resiliency to stress and stressors,” Wedemeyer said. “Some individuals are very reactive to stress and are less likely to enjoy a haunted house.”
Burris spoke of a similar feeling when describing why he is able to enjoy the films without becoming scared.
“If you’re able to suspend disbelief and immerse yourself in the film, horror gives you the opportunity to get an adrenaline rush in a controlled environment,” he said.
While not completely immune to the heebie jeebies, it’s the realities of day-to-day life that scare Burris more.
“Occasionally, I will get spooked out due to the atmosphere and the sense of impending dread if it’s a good one,” Burris said. “That slow release rush is preferable to the short, quick jump scares that most horror films implement. But I never get too scared … Honestly, I’m more scared of being late paying bills than I am of anything that’s in typical horror films.”
Ultimately, there is something to be said for a simulated scary experience as opposed to having an intruder in your house. Wedemeyer explained the difference between manufactured and natural fear.
“The difference between a haunted house and an intruder in your house is a combination of both context and expectations,” he said. “We can enjoy the ‘thrill’ of the stress response in situations that we know we are safe and where we expect to be frightened. An intruder is not expected and safety is in jeopardy.”
Whether or not fear is enjoyed, it is worth noting that Wedemeyer also said the treatment for fears and phobias include repeated, increased exposure to the fearful situation. Just a little food for thought as you sit down to watch scary movies this Halloween.