. The Safety Net
Consistent with the description above, when we get scared, our bodies will go into fight, flight, or freeze mode; but, even though we are cognitively lazy (as mentioned numerous times throughout this blog), our brains are good at what they do — so, if we are in a setting where we get a “safe” fright (e.g. watching a horror film, visiting a haunted house, or playing a scary video game) our brains will quickly evaluate the situation and tell us that we’re free from risk. Our bodies calm and many of us subsequently enjoy the experience.
Thus, many of us are actually seeking “controlled” fear and suspense, because we know we are safe.
2. The Flood
When we get scared, we experience a rush of adrenaline and a release of endorphins and dopamine.
The biochemical rush can result in a pleasure-filled, opioid-like sense of euphoria. Coupled with this, when we are reminded of our safety (i.e., the safety net), the experience of fear subsides, and we are left with a gratifying sense of relief and subsequent well-being.
Some people enjoy “pushing the envelope,” seeking thrills, and seeing how much fear can be tolerated. If they are able to endure the barrage of anxiety, suspense, and fear, a great sense of self-satisfaction is often experienced. I’ll never forget being scared out of my mind watching The Shining when I was 12 years old, but also being quite proud of myself for making it through the entirety of the film without turning my head away!
4. Closeness with Others
A common piece of dating advice for young men years ago was to take their date to a scary movie. The tip was based on the idea that when their date got frightened, they would curl in for “protection”; thus, reinforcing a bond between the two (this is the G-Rated version of the rationale)
. Though the advice is certainly dated, there is some truth to it — applying to both people on the date. Given that being frightened releases a biochemical flood that can yield a pleasurable outcome, we often misattribute this arousal (i.e. the pleasurable outcomes of fear) to the individual with whom we’re spending that time; that is, the two people on the date like each other more now because of the pleasurable feeling experienced during their time together at the cinema — not necessarily because of each other’s company, but because of the outcomes of fear.