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Oct 24, 2022 — Halloween ends? Yes, of couse. As if that would happen.

The horror market remains robust 44 years after the original Halloween film premiered. Part of the reason for this (besides Michael Myers’ charm) is that we humans seem so hardwired that we enjoy being afraid.

Whatever happens inside Halloween ends, the latest part of the long-running film series, you will leave the cinema relieved and satisfied. You had fun and you survived. It feels good.

And you, and the rest of the world, will do it again and again watch other movies, play scary video games, listen to true crime podcasts, read Stephen King books, visit haunted houses. A survey by the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University in Denmark found that 55% of Americans like scary media and 90% had been immersed in the horror world at least once in the past year.

Our fondness for fear goes back thousands of years. But new research tests the theory that indulging in morbid curiosity and scary play can help us build psychological resilience, overcome phobias, and deal with genuine fears. So far the answer is yes.

When you startle yourself on purpose, you “learn your limits and learn a little bit of confidence in the face of feelings of danger or fear or anxiety,” he says Coltan Scrivner, PhD, researcher at Fear Lab and author of several articles on horror.

Our fascination extends to real life, however contradictory we may feel. “When we drive past a car crash or see a horrifying photo, our minds are forced to attend and gather information,” says Scrivner. “That is the essence of pathological curiosity.”

Greg Siegle, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, says it makes evolutionary sense. “It’s on us to watch out for potentially threatening things. We learn very quickly and encode them deeply.”

For example: Roadkill reminds us to look both ways before crossing the road.

This field of science seems to be having a hell of a time. Researchers visit haunted house attractions and interview visitors. They show scary movies to wired viewers and check heart rate, eye movements, brain activity and other measures of arousal.

Even zombies play a role. In a pilot, Siegle and her colleague Margee Kerr, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh, put costumed and made-up actors on a train for a virtual reality film about zombies. Subjects in VR goggles “enter” the carriage to find zombies, but in the end, the actors remove the makeup and everyone laughs.

It’s a 21st-century reboot of exposure therapy, the 70-year-old technique of exposing patients to something that makes them anxious until they can handle it. “The problem with exposure therapy is that it’s terrible,” Siegle says. “People would rather get out than face their fears. What if we made fun of it?”

Daily moviegoers use a “homebrew method” of exposure therapy, says Scrivner. “morbidly curious horror fans spend time with these feelings in a playful context,” he says. “They have a little more experience with feeling anxious or anxious and learn to regulate those feelings.”

The advantages become clear.

You become more resilient

Scrivner and others took the opportunity to indirectly test this theory during the pandemic. Turns out, horror fans showed “greater preparedness and psychological resilience” about the pandemicthey wrote in a 2021 study. They found that “Exposure to frightening fiction” can help people “practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.”

Our innate penchant for playful fear and surprise shows up in peekaboo with a baby or playing hide-and-seek with young children. “They want to get you or you have to run from them,” says Scrivner. “It’s a pretty scary idea for a kid.”

Scrivner cites the work of Helen Dodd, PhD, a child psychologist in the UK, who found that children who engage in risky, exciting play “have a sort of vaccine against anxiety in adolescence.”

“It’s little kids hearing scary stories, riding bikes too fast, climbing trees too high, teenagers watching horror movies or hearing true crime stories,” says Mathias Clasen, PhD, director of the Fear Lab and author of A Guide to Horror Movies for the Very Nervous Person.

“The idea is that they played with fear, or played with scary situations, played with fear, and probably developed some tools to deal with those feelings,” he says.

you will feel better

Scary media is fun because it allows people “to deal with difficult feelings, like fear or anxiety, in a safe and playful environment,” says Scrivner. “You can take your attention off your rumination cycle.” And you’re in control: You can turn down the volume, turn on the lights, cover your eyes, and know it’s over in 90 minutes.

Scrivner, Clasen, and others examined three types of horror fans in a 2022 article. Adrenaline junkies seek maximum stimulation and feel great during the excitement. White Knucklers tolerate the fear but love to learn about themselves. And Dark Copers get the mood boost and the self-enlightenment.

Some people find horror to be an excellent mind-clearing experience, says Kerr, author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. In her research, people walking through a haunted house attraction show “a global decrease in brainwave activity.”

That is positive in this context. Their mood improved, they felt more confident, and were able to “turn off or turn off inner thoughts,” she says. “This gives an idea of ​​why people enjoy experiencing these spooky activities.” When our sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and hormones and neurotransmitters surge, it can lead to a euphoria akin to a runner’s high. “Also the feeling of having achieved something ,We are still alive!'”

Kerr and Siegle co-authored an article in the magazine emotion subtitled “Why we like to be afraid.” it said The improved mood was particularly notable in “tired, bored, or stressed” people.

Siegle points out that it’s physiologically hard to tell the difference between “high positive” and “high negative emotions.” (“Fear faces and orgasm faces” often look the same, he says.)

“What if we crave these highly arousing experiences?” says Siegel. “It puts us in a state of flow. That makes us dizzy. We could reach it through an ecstatic positive emotion like dancing with a partner you love. Or we could get it with a haunted house.”

Or a crime scene photo or an illustrative medical show. “Disgust is an emotion that provokes arousal,” says Siegle.

People seem to find a personal “sweet spot” for their frightening and morbid experiences: not too scary, not too boring, says Scrivner. (Adaptive video game makers use research from the Fear Lab to calibrate a game’s fear factor.)

The closer you get to your sweet spot, the more you’ll benefit from the experience, Scrivner says. “You want something that will push you to the limit so you can test the waters.”

You get to know yourself better

“Surviving” a haunted house or a horror movie will help you become more attuned to your body, researchers say. Part of this, says Clasen, is improving your “interoception” skillsPerceive and understand bodily reactions such as a racing heart or sweaty palms. An anxious person senses this happening and becomes more anxious. triggering these responses in a safe environment like on your couch can help break this cycle.

Scary movies do indeed trigger. When scientists showed people horror movies and measured brain activity with functional MRI, their “threat response network” lit up as if they were in danger, according to a study in neuroimage showed.

You might even gain insight into your personality. Scrivner has a fun quiz on his website to gauge morbid curiosity. The questions cover four areas: the mind of dangerous people, the paranormal, physical harm and violence. You are asked to rate your agreement with the following statements:

1. I am interested in the thoughts of violent people.

2. I think the supernatural is an interesting subject.

3. If a head transplant were possible, I would want to see the procedure.

4. If I lived in ancient Rome I would be interested in attending a gladiator fight.

A strong “yes” to all of these points, according to Scrivner, means you’re likely to be well above average for morbid curiosity. Statistically, you are “slightly more likely to have elevated levels of traits such as openness to experience, rebellion, and fear.”

That’s right — “morbidly curious people tend to be more anxious,” says Scrivner. “A core aspect of fear is alertness to threats. Events or situations that pique our morbid curiosity are often threatening events or situations that we can safely explore.”

It’s important to note that this strong agreement “doesn’t mean there’s anything pathological or unhealthy about her curiosity.”

In other words, horror fans are not sick. “There are people who do very well on empathy and compassion and also love torture porn and slasher movies,” says Scrivner. The film hostel, for a somber and graphic example, contains several scenes that focus on the suffering of the victims, not the sadist’s pleasure. “It’s a very powerful tool that makes you empathize with the victim,” he says.

At the very least, Kerr says, a voluntary frightening experience can stimulate self-reflection, feelings of growth and competence, and that can enhance our “cognitive flexibility.” This flexibility helps us regulate our emotions and spurs us on to engage with other people and new experiences — all of which promote well-being, she says.

And while you probably won’t encounter zombies, “You might get better at navigating a job interview, your company presentation, or a date,” says Clasen.

This increase in the ability to regulate emotions comes up in a 2016 article in the scientific journal antiquity (reviewed articles about spooky stuff). The paper, titled “Grotesque Gaming: The Monstrous in Online Worlds,” explored “how gamers enjoy landscapes of the monstrous and grotesque to confront and timidly overcome our inner fears and anxieties.”

“It is in our human nature to be drawn to the terrible and to delight in encountering it, for in this way we achieve a partial and temporary victory over ourselves,” reads the newspaper.

“The fact that these games exist shows that we need horror.”

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