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October 31, 2019

Crave the Scare on Halloween? The Psychology Behind Fear

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Ever wanted to step inside a haunted house? What about a haunted graveyard? Would you willingly walk blindfolded or dare sneak into an abandoned hospital?

Spooky season has officially arrived today, marking the old tradition of Halloween. Though we may steer clear of our limits, many of us test our guts by awaiting the chance to trick or be tricked, unable to resist a good fright.

So why do we crave the occasional scare, especially on Halloween? We surely don’t enjoy the sweaty palms or cold feet, so then what part, exactly, gives us the kick?

Prof. Tamar Kushnir, human development, elaborated on the possible theories behind the desire to push limits and seek fear in the context of the upcoming tradition. In her scientific opinion, there is a popular psychological theory behind all this confusion.

“I have heard theories [that] we like to [seek fear] in our fantasy lives, like going to a movie or dressing up in a scary costume because we know it’s not real, and we’re not actually wanting to be in a situation that’s really fearful,” Kushnir explained.

She said that when in a situation where nothing truly bad can happen to you, “a simulated fear is a way to practice and enjoy the experience of being afraid, knowing you’re safe” in reality. In other words, the behavior is “a way of playing with emotion without real cost.”

Furthermore, according to Kushnir, there may be a reason why children around ages four and five, as opposed to adults, are less interested in such activities.

In line with the theory that we wish to push our boundaries in a safe-space like fantasy, Kushnir suggested that “maybe the reason why kids aren’t as interested in [fear] is because they’re not trying to do that yet,” whereas a 20-year-old may crave more adventure as they know more about the world they live in.

However, fear is not something that we are born attracted to.

“I don’t feel like, as a general rule, children are interested in putting themselves in situations that cause fear. It’s very telling, and it’s very different from adults,” Kushnir said.

Nonetheless, Halloween is as much a long-awaited day for children as it is for adults. Often, the excitement of dressing up in costumes and knocking on doors is something the children have been looking forward to way more than the adults do. But if children know that they will face fright on their trick-or-treat hunt, why is it that Halloween is still such a popular day amongst them?

“Candy,” Kushnir said, half laughing and half sighing. “When you guys are passing out candy at your houses and you think about the little ones that are squeezing their mother’s hand while looking at the blood on your mask, I mean that kid’s going to take your candy, but they’re not afraid of you!”

Overall, Halloween is an enjoyable occasion for all ages, and while we may have had different reactions to fear throughout our lives, if you happen to find yourself craving it more than others, ask yourself, do you seek fear, or do you seek exhilaration?

While fear provides the rush of adrenaline and spike in attention, there are many ways to achieve the same positive boost of endorphins, such as riding a roller coaster, romantic love, and even exercise. It’s interesting to ponder, then, if given the choice to feel exhilaration from fear or exhilaration from a form of positive experience, would one choose the latter?

Perhaps, maybe the reason we’re looking to be scared is because we’re interested more in the rush, as opposed to genuine fear. As we normally can’t get the rush out of the typical, ordinary experience of our daily lives, it is possible that the boredom drives our desire to seek out situations where there are some novelty and excitement.

Hence, while it is entirely possible that some of us truly do crave the scare, it is also possible that Halloween may be catering to our need for adventure, rather than fear.