WHY DO WE LIKE BEING SCARED?
This is a question I ask myself every time I subject myself to watching either American Horror Story or going to ‘Fright Nights’ during the Halloween season. If fear is such a bad thing then why do we find pleasure from unpleasant things. Aristotle tried to address this by looking at disgust, which nowadays is a common emotion we experience when watching zombie films. He stated that we learn from ugly and scary things, and we enjoy that learning process, regardless of how difficult it may be to watch. He argues that the cognitive benefits we receive from such horrific things, counterbalance with our negative emotions of them. For example, in horror films, we may learn what not to do in a certain situation, and through that learning we feel pleasure or even safety.
Evolutionarily speaking, the pleasure we feel when we are scared can also be attributed to ‘morbid curiosity. For example, when we are driving and come across an accident that has happened ahead of us, we automatically turn to look, no matter how gruesome the accident may be. Through evolution, feeling fear or disgust can signal dangers, that when we pay attention to them can increase our likelihood of survival. However, in terms of watching a horror movie, we do not have to respond to the signals of danger like the characters in the movie do, therefore we feel relaxed which in turn gives us that momentary feeling of pleasure.
Even though these theories give sufficient evidence to suggest why we may feel pleasure when scared, I personally feel there is another factor which plays an important role in fear. In my opinion, the best horror movies are the ones that affect you psychologically. That isn’t to say the other horror movies are bad, it just means that the horror movies which have the biggest impact are the ones that make you think. When you are made to think, you are actually subconsciously dealing with negative emotions associated with the theme of the movie and actually overcoming them. Even movies that do not fall in the horror genre, such as ‘The Maze Runner’ or ‘The Hunger Games, but have horrific themes within the storyline have benefits for the human psyche. Psychoanalysts argue that classic fairy tales help children work through the intrapsychic turmoil of early childhood, but also the conquering of these fears allow individuals to fear pleasure which may explain why we enjoy being scared. Anxiety and stress in particular are a part of everyday life and the escapism we feel from reading these stories or watching these movies help us cope with our insecurities. Moreover, the actual act of confronting our fears, in this case watching horror movies, is responsible for the pleasure we feel and thus suggests why we continuously subject ourselves to such scary situations.
Joana Alemany Bird