Featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Ever been on a ghostly roller coaster ride of emotions? One moment, you’re gripping the armrests, heart pounding wildly. The next, you’re laughing out loud. Weird, right? Why does fear, that old pesky feeling, sometimes leave us grinning from ear to ear?
Turns out there’s a bit of a scientific reason for it.
From Screams To Giggles
Fear takes many forms. Some people love the fear that comes from a roller coaster’s stomach-lurching drops. Others however, get their chills from scary movies or eerie midnight campfire tales.
But how exactly do fear and laughs end up coming together? Well, that’s where things get a bit more complicated.
Take, for example, the famous Scream-a-Geddon, a 60-acre horror park in Florida where visitors can walk into six extreme haunted house attractions and come face to face with witches, ghouls, and all sorts of ghostly gags. But while horror lovers might tiptoe in screaming, it’s all laughs and chuckles on the way out.
It’s the same reason that in 2023, over 1,300 brave souls entered a lottery for a chance to sleep in the haunted room 311 of The Read House in Tennessee. Legend goes local resident Annalisa Netherly was decapitated in 1927 by her lover. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Also yes. Boo, anyone?
Even if we know that the ghost on screen can’t leap out, our still brain buzzes with activity and our body is pumping adrenaline when we’re exposed to scary things.
Scary Stories And Spine-tingly Science
Let’s get something out of the way first: We should thank our ancient, cave-dwelling ancestors for some of our jump scares. Our great-great-great (you get the drift) ancestors handed us a bag of hard-wired fears. Frights that get triggered by things like spiders, sudden noises, and anything that goes “boo” in the night. These primal fears helped them survive so they were useful to have. It’s like we inherited our ancestors’ security system!
These “pre-programmed” fears are the same reason why children instinctively know about being afraid of loud noises, spiders, and snakes. Other fears might be acquired over time — maybe you were stung by a bee as a child and now are scared of them. Or maybe you read a scary story about a killer clown and are now scared of clowns (we might have Stephen King to thank for that).
Our love for scary stories, though, is timeless — even when we know those fears aren’t real. We still watch horror movies and jump when the monsters peek out from under the bed. But why?
According to scientists, that’s because watching horror movies activates the same areas in the brain as real danger does. Meaning our brain can’t tell real fear and “fake” fear apart, releasing extra adrenaline and epinephrine in both cases. This can act as a “natural high,” a fight-or-flight feeling that can make you feel strong and almost euphoric.
This is also the reason why getting scared can be so addictive. At the end of a haunted house or a horror movie, when the fear goes away, we are left feeling triumphant.
Boo-st Your Mood With A Bit Of Fright
It isn’t just the immediate feeling of power that makes getting scared so rewarding, either. Studies have shown that those who love a good scare-fest on screen tend to be a tad more resilient in real life. Turns out, tackling fictional fears (hello, zombie apocalypses and haunted houses) might prep us for real-world curve balls.
It seems our penchant for playful panic is all about mastering the unexpected. A recent study found that “people who enjoyed watching scary films were more psychologically resilient than non-horror fans.” Because they frequently expose themselves to unpredictable, scary situations, they’re better equipped emotionally to cope with unexpected things life throws their way.
Think of it this way — if the zombie apocalypse ever comes, those who watched lots of zombie movies might be able to handle the undead a lot better.
So go ahead and embrace the shivers, the jumps, and the nervous giggles, because when life hands you a scare… why not turn it into a thrilling hour of fun?
By Diana Bocco, contributor for Ripleys.com
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Author: Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: https://www.ripleys.com/weird-news/feed/