The thrill of a good scare
Ever wonder why some things are like a car accident – you know it’s awful but you just can’t look away? From horrific car/plane/train crashes to collapsing buildings, devastating explosions, bombing attacks to disastrous hurricanes, people are captivated by such images of disasters. So much that when it appears before you, you just cannot look away. Researchers believe that this is based on the innate curiosity of human beings. But also the fact that we are drawn to doom and horror – you know it is horrible and don’t want to look, but somehow you can’t turn away. Whether we admit it or not, humans are inexplicably fascinated by tragedy, by the morbid, the unreal so-to-speak. It is the reason why even children enjoy Halloween so much, dressing up in gory costumes as blood-sucking vampires and murdered victims with an axe on their head and blood dripping down their forehead. Graphic and ghastly as these images may be, people love a good scare. It is why thrillers and horror movies become instant box office successes. And why the most popular theme park attractions are the haunted houses and the ghost rides.
So why do people actually enjoy being scared? Investigators say it’s because of the adrenaline rush that results in a euphoric sense of relief at the end of the terror. The hormonal reaction in response to a threat or crisis is that very action that motivates us to “like to be scared”. It is the “flight or fight” syndrome of primitive times that still applies to the animal kingdom. At the moment we feel threatened, we have increased strength, power, heightened senses and intuition. (Just like Spiderman – but not all the time). But if the brain knows there is no risk of really being harmed, it experiences this adrenaline rush as enjoyable. For that, some people crave to be frightened. To feel the chill down your spine, the nail-biting horror, the cold sweat. Simply for the rush and the relief at the end. For the fun of it all.
Similarly, people may strive to see a car wreck simply for the need to feel the risk of an actual car crash, of living the excitement as if it was actually you there, but without the actual danger. It’s as if you are living that very rush – dangerous rush – through someone else. It is the insatiable need to expose yourself to sensations that are different from the routine. Diverse from the security of everyday life.
Scary has various connotations, however. Talent shows presenting dancers who are as graceless as a wooden stick, and singers as toneless as a shrieking cat, can all be deemed scary in a sense. But still you somehow cannot look away. Perhaps it is the pleasure of making fun at others who are daring to do something unabashed, even though they are terrible at it. Or perhaps it is the very insatiable thirst to satisfy our curiosity. A curiosity, that as Steven Wright said, “killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect”.