Why Do We Like To Experience Fear?

April 16, 2019
Interestingly enough, empathic people usually like to experience fear. This may be because they have a greater ability to process emotions than other people; and therefore, seek to live more experiences of this type.

Scary movies continue to gain followers as time goes by. Haunted houses, survival zombies, and scary experiences overall are now more fashionable than ever. And yet, if someone were to ask us why we like to experience fear, we simply cannot explain it.

In fact, it’s quite confusing why we so many of us are fascinated by this kind of thing. It’d seem that our instinct should be to flee from everything that makes us feel bad, right? Then why do we like to feel fear?

The truth is that it’s quite natural for scary things to fascinate us in some way. The mechanisms that cause this are, in fact, well documented by the scientific community. Understanding said mechanisms can help us better understand the way our mind works. In this article, we’ll be studying why this phenomenon takes place.

“But I love being scared. I think you’re brave only when you do things that scare you. I’ve always used fear as a motivator. I’m not sure why.”

-Ginnifer Goodwin-

We like to experience fear due to our brain functioning

According to various researchers, the reason we like to experience fear has to do with the way our mind works. When we’re facing a potentially dangerous stimulus, our body prepares to act. In these situations, we segregate certain hormones that make us enter the commonly known “fight or flight” state.

Thanks to this mechanism, our ancestors maximized their chances of survival in the face of all kinds of harmful situations. Substances such as adrenaline or norepinephrine (two of the neurotransmitters involved in fear responses) helped them escape from what could harm them. Even if they didn’t get the chance to escape, these substances for sure helped them cope with the situation.

Now, the problem with this mechanism is that it hasn’t really evolved in the last 10,000 years. Thus, the stimuli that we find today are quite different from those of the cave age. Despite this, however, our bodily response to them remains the same.

The biggest difference in our way of reacting is our rational brain. And precisely, in this difference, we may find the reason why so many of us like to experience fear.

a woman looking fearful

The existing disconnection between body and mind

Nowadays, when we’re in front of a stimulus that our body sees as dangerous, there’s an instant disconnection between what we think and what we feel.

On one hand, our hormonal system is activated as if we had to face a potentially harmful situation. On the other, however, in the case of a horror movie or a haunted house, our brain is perfectly aware that we’re not facing real danger.

“It’s like why people like to read scary books or go see scary movies. Because it creates a distance. They’re scared, but they’re not going to get hurt.”

-Vincent D’Onofrio-

Thus, contrary to what happened to our ancestors, we can enjoy this hormone-produced sensation without feeling actually scared. That way, we feel more active, full of energy, but without suffering the consequences of facing a real threat.

In fact, according to different pieces of research, fear-related hormones are very similar to those of happiness. Therefore, many people say that after a terrifying but safe experience, their mood improves significantly. So much so that looking for scary stimuli can become addictive for some.

The relationship between personality and the taste for horror

Let’s get something straight. The hormones released in the face of a terrifying situation aren’t the only factor involved in this phenomenon. According to various investigations, not everyone likes fear equally. As a matter of fact, there are great individual differences depending on our personalities.

Thus, researchers have discovered that there are several traits that correlate with a greater attraction for scary situations. These are the main ones:

Openness to experience

Those who love doing different things every day tend to have a greater love for terrifying situations; to a point where they look to experience fear on a constant basis.

Extraversion

Extroverts need a higher level of external stimulation to feel at ease. That may explain why they usually like horror movies, haunted houses, and similar elements much more than introverts.

Empathy

Interestingly enough, empathic people usually like to experience fear. This may be because they have a greater ability to process emotions than other people; and therefore, seek to live more experiences of this type.

experience fear in a forest

In this article, we mentioned several reasons that may explain why we like to experience fear. Keep in mind, though, that there may be many more factors involved. Science still has many questions to answer and many hypotheses to further investigate in this regard. That being said, it’s necessary to do more research on the subject.

Meanwhile, however, what’s clear is that people all around the world continue to enjoy more and more everything that may cause them an ‘artificial’ feeling of fear.