Getting a Thrill From Fear Should Be Counter-Intuitive
Yet, fear can be exciting, so there must be some benefit to intentionally scaring ourselves.
From time to time, especially around Halloween, I enjoy indulging in some good ol’ self-induced fear. Bring on the scary movies and haunted houses. Let’s check out that corn maze with the Freddie Krugers, Jasons, and clowns lurking around every corner. Yet, fear is meant to protect us from danger, fake or not, so why oh why do we put ourselves through such things?
To any thrill seekers or horror fans, the reason is obvious. There’s just something exciting about being scared. Our hearts pound, our adrenaline skyrockets, and every sense is on high alert. Then, once we remember we’re safe, sweet relief floods our system, and we feel euphoric for simply being alive. But now scientists think there’s more to it.
Fear the Survival Skill
We don’t need scientific evidence to understand the basic principles of why fear works so well as a survival skill. Fear keeps us alive by creating a strong emotional response to avoid people, places, or things that threaten our physical or mental wellbeing. Curiosity may lead us into a dangerous situation, but fear will ensure we don’t repeat the mistake. However, science can tell us much more about how fear works.
Protected deep in the center of your brain is an almond-shaped bundle of neurons called the amygdala, which controls your fear response. When you’re scared, your amygdala sends distress signals to your hypothalamus, which triggers your adrenal cortical and sympathetic nervous systems producing a flash flood of hormones that activate your fight, flight, or freeze stress response.
Hormones like adrenaline increase your body’s alertness by speeding up your heart and diverting blood from your core to the muscles in your limbs in case you need to fight or run. Your breath quickens, which sends oxygen to your brain, and cortisol raises your blood pressure. Blood vessels around your vital organs dilate to deliver an influx of fresh nutrients and oxygen, making you ready to take on whatever situation you’re facing.