It seems each year as Halloween approaches various magazines, newspapers, and websites take a look at why some people l scary movie and movies and haunted houses while others hate the feeling that these two examples provide around this spooky season. The answer is quite scientific and shows a predisposition to fear one way or the other with not much of a gray area between those two poles.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Why would you crave the feeling of a survival instinct that is fear?

That question often falls to Dr. Margee Kerr whom not only teaches at Robert Morris University and Chatham University, but works as a “scare specialist” at ScareHouse, a haunted house in Pittsburgh that goes nothing short of over the top with its attraction that is meticulous planned and calculated for months ahead of the opening of revamped haunted house this time each year.

Humans instinctively have a “fight or flight” instinct that makes us both faster and stronger when hormones are released in response to a feeling of fear. While the world is a safer place than the caveman enjoyed, we still have this chemical reaction that kept our ancestors alive when wild animals attacked. Now, living in a small village surrounded by lions in Africa still exists but getting killed by a saber-tooth tiger in Akron, Ohio is considerably less likely.

But enjoying scary situations like films and haunted houses comes down to how much dopamine the body releases when in a scary situation and how individuals deal with this release of dopamine. Some get an absolute high from it and embrace this powerful hormone and become addicted to it, others….not so much and get a sense of dread rather than the desired “high.”

Experts chime in on the enjoyment fear brings to some

Kerr explained this difference in a 2013 interview with The Atlantic nearly perfectly when speaking about her work at ScareHouse when asked how she managed to scare people “in a fun way.”

“To really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we’re in a safe environment. It’s all about triggering the amazing fight-or-flight response to experience the flood of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine, but in a completely safe space. Haunted houses are great at this—they deliver a startle scare by triggering one of our senses with different sounds, air blasts, and even smells. These senses are directly tied to our fear response and activate the physical reaction, but our brain has time to process the fact that these are not “real” threats. Our brain is lightning-fast at processing threat. I’ve seen the process thousands of times from behind the walls in ScareHouse—someone screams and jumps and then immediately starts laughing and smiling. It’s amazing to observe. I’m really interested to see where our boundaries are regarding when and how we really know or feel we’re safe,” the doctor said.

Kerr truly is the leading expert in taking her knowledge about sociology and putting into practice in a haunted house which is exhibited by the fact that three years after her interview with The Atlantic she was recently interviewed by the Washington Post for a piece published today.

In speaking about consciously calling up the fight or flight response, Kerr said,”We’re not worried about groceries or abstract things, but instead feel very grounded and primal.”

She spoke of fear and the feeling of accomplishment some experience, “Like any personal challenge, running a 5K or climbing a tree, we stressed [ourselves] and came out okay,” Kerr says. “Even though we knew we were safe going in, we feel we accomplished something.”

I for one love scary movies but my girlfriend would much prefer to watch “Groundhog Day” even though it’s Halloween tonight and the wrong holiday for that.