[Image by ayoub wardin from Pixabay]
Usually, scary stuff is not fun. We tend to avoid poop-in-your pants situations. They can be traumatic and leave lasting psychological damage. Not to mention what they do to your pants.
Yet entire industries, from rollercoaster manufacturing to Stephen King, depend upon us enjoying being scared. As someone who loves horror movies and horror fiction (writing as well as reading it), I wanted to explore why it’s fun to be frightened sometimes.
I’ve got two scientific-sounding answers for you: dopamine and Excitation Transfer Theory.
When a horde of zombies is shuffling toward you, or you’re hurling downhill impossibly fast in an amusement park, you sense danger and your body undergoes its fight-or-flight response, releasing various hormones. One of these is dopamine, which causes pleasure. But the key is that you’re not in actual danger. The zombies exist in a movie or novel and the rollercoaster is (hopefully) safe and controlled. So, knowing that you’re not going to be eaten or smashed to bits allows you to enjoy your dopamine and adrenaline buzz.
Disclaimer: If, in your past, you were actually attacked by zombies or had a traumatic episode involving G-forces, none of this enjoyment will apply to you.
Another disclaimer: Bad feelings are stored in the amygdala of your brain and sometimes never go away. So even if you know the zombie movie is just a movie and totally harmless, if it scares the you-know-what out of you and that fear sticks in your amygdala, you might never want to see a zombie movie again.
Another reason we enjoy fear is the Excitation Transfer Theory. As the aroused state fear induces in your body (increased heartbeat, faster breathing, tense muscles) wears off after the threat is over, its remnants heighten the enjoyment of your sense of relief. They also heighten other emotions, such as the pride of having gotten through the trial and the camaraderie of sharing the experience with friends.
Or the joy at having discovered new authors from Pandamoon Publishing who write exciting, thrilling, and scary novels. Dive in! (You’ll be safe.)
Sources (and enjoyable reading):