To Fear or Not to Fear

By: mjb


Fear and Halloween are probably going to be forever intertwined. After all, a holiday that celebrates “the ghastlier aspects of death and beyond” has to conjure up images of fear in some minds. However, fear and anxiety associated with the holiday aside, observing people's behavior around Halloween can often show an interesting dichotomy to how people handle fear. The same concept also applies whenever most people are presented with an option to voluntarily view something they know is designed to scare them, such as a horror movie. Proper observation can often make it apparent that far is not quite as simple to understand as most folks would like to assume.

Fear is a negative emotional response. This has been what each and every one of us has been told since we were children. Recognizing fear and anxiety as negative factors is also deeply ingrained into the basic human psyche, with people instinctively associated fear with a variety of undesirable personality traits. The avoidance of fear, or at least controlling one's self to the point that one's fear and anxiety is not readily apparent to casual observers, can sometimes have side effects when a person's mental health is considered. This is particularly true if the unwillingness to show fear has become a fear in and of itself, which is both psychologically dangerous and rather ironic.

However, that does not seem to coincide very well with how much people want to be scared. While it is unlikely that a random person off the street is going to readily admit to the inclination, most psychologists believe that people want to be frightened. Ghost stories around the campfire, horror movies that have ample amounts of tension and anxiety, and roller coasters with obscenely risky loops are all taken as factors. Each of the above can be used to scare people and, according to some mental health experts, it is the fact that things like the above scare us that cause us to frequent them so much. However, it isn't so much the fear itself that the brain and the body draws pleasure from, but the hormonal reaction to that fear.

Most psychologists and doctors believe that the body and mind comes to enjoy the sensations brought about by the various chemicals the body produces when it is in an excited state. The most commonly known of these substances would be adrenaline, but there are other hormones and biochemicals that come into play. The easiest way to get the body to increase the flow of these substances is to feel fear, which would explain why people are sometimes to eager to put themselves in situations where they can be scared. The adrenaline “rush” caused by fear and taking risks can also account for people's enjoyment of extreme sports, even if they are not the sole factor. The fact that things like horror movies and roller coasters are, to an extent, controlled environments also makes it easier for people to go into them. The sense of control over the situation that induces the fear is often enough to keep the survival instinct from overriding the desire to be scared.

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