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December 21, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Personality

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Why do people like being scared?

Question:

I was just talking to my brother in the car one day and he was going to see a movie. I was telling him some movies I wanted to see and how I never had time to them. Most of the movies were horror movies and he asked me how I could stand them and this led to the question "Why do people love to be scared from movies and stories?"

Why the heck do people like to be scared?

Missy Kate, 20-year-old woman

Answer:

Missy,

Thanks for this fun and interesting question.

In order to answer it, though, let's look first at the way in which people like to be scared. As you mentioned, some folks like scary movies and stories, some people like amusement park thrill rides, and a substantial segment of the population actually likes engaging in challenges to their physical safety - like endurance tests and extreme sports. Some persons choose relationships and behaviors which have the potential to cause great destruction, and still others love the threat of financial disaster (and success) that financial ventures, like the stock market, present. In other words, people have a whole lot of ways they "like to be scared."

The hormonal reaction we humans get from responding to a threat or crisis is what motivates us to "like to be scared". This is the same "fight or flight" syndrome which guaranteed our survival in more primitive times. At the moment we are threatened, we have increased strength, power, heightened senses and intuition. This increase in mental and physical capacity is commonly referred as an "adrenaline rush." It is named after the primary hormone involved.

Basically, you can get this feeling defending yourself against a lion in the jungle or sitting in a theater showing a horror flick. We, as humans, appear to be "hard-wired" to be drawn to this feeling. It is older than we are as a species, and is tied to our survival; without it, we would have perished and died out long ago.

With something so compelling, is it any wonder that many people like to get this sensation within the comfort, security and complete resolution a ninety minute scary movie or a two-minute thrill ride provide?

These pastimes give us the chance to have our evolutionary "cake and eat it, too." Leaving the theater, or turning off the VCR after we have been thoroughly terrified by a film director's imagery, we connect - just a bit- with our ancestors who had to overcome nature's savagery. We - like they- get to feel victorious, triumphant, and, perhaps, most importantly, sorely tested. It is a feeling as old as mankind itself.

As you enter the stage in your life which will be (probably) the most challenge-filled (independent young adulthood), you might be connecting with your own need to survive and conquer on an ever deeper psychological level than older filmgoers. Maybe - just maybe - that's why the typical horror movie audience seems to be primarily teenagers and young adults. Perhaps they are (unconsciously) readying themselves for the survival tasks of adulthood.

The fact that you do not make time right now to go see the scary movies you enjoy might mean that you are engaging in other challenges in life which meet this need more directly, but that's just a guess.

Sincerely,

Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT

This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr . She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.

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