Shades of Scary

Cautiously walking through dark hallways full of strobe-lit demons, getting chased by shadowy figures with chainsaws and gasping after psychotic killers plot revenge on the silver screen are enjoyable and popular activities for students throughout the month of October.

With students seeking these adrenaline-filled experiences, answering the question of why people like getting scared may be as challenging as seeing a dark object veiled within a nighttime fog.

Howard Casey Cromwell, associate professor in the department of psychology, said what causes fear is a hotly debated topic. Mentioning a “fear circuit” in the brain, Cromwell said when specific regions in the brain get activated, such as the brain stem in the lower region and the amygdala in the forebrain, the reaction is feeling fright.

Senior film production major Anthony Beal does not get scared easily. However, he does enjoy a good scare when watching frightening movies.

“What makes horror films great to me is the fact that everybody has something that they’re scared of,” he said. “There are so many different subgenres and different kinds of horror films that everybody can find something they can latch onto and say ‘That terrifies me.'”

Beal said an even mixture of gore and suspense make a horror flick exceptional.

“Even though you’re watching [the movie] in between your fingers, there’s an exhilaration and an adrenaline rush that goes into watching something like that,” he said. “I think that’s what people are after…It’s like, ‘I don’t want to watch, but I have to.'”

Junior Jake McPherson is not easily scared either, but he likes visiting haunted houses when they have been creatively thought out.

“I like them when time is actually put into them,” he said. “I like going there and having people put in good days of work trying to scare you. It usually never happens, but it’s entertaining.”

If McPherson were to create his own haunted house, it would take place in an eerie setting. He would not use props, but rather, psychological techniques to mess with the mind, since that is what scaring accomplishes in his opinion.

And when a person feels afraid, the mind can become rewired, said Cromwell. In turn, the person might become prone to getting scared in the future.

But certain psychological theories suggest deciding to go out for scares is a way to prepare for sticky situations, even if they are extreme.

“We enjoy scary things because it tests us and allows us to kind of see what we would do if we were threatened, but we do it in a safe manor,” said Cromwell. “When something real might happen, you’d know that you’d be able to handle it.”

McPherson has witnessed this enjoyment firsthand, perhaps lending an understanding as to why a foul-smelling and demonic creature following close behind may have a unique comfort attached to it.

“It’s fun being scared, especially in a controlled environment…” he said. “You obviously know nothing’s going to happen to you, but you still get the exhilaration out of it.”

And as far as thrill-seeking individuals go, Cromwell said participating in activities causing a rush could happen because the person may need the excitement to change the routine of a calm everyday life.

So as All Hallows Eve approaches, taking steps with shielded eyes or fearless confidence both contribute to the psychology behind what makes people scream for their life, or for the brave, what makes them laugh about the attempt.