Why do we enjoy horror?

28 October 2016

Interview with

Dr Hank Davis, University of Guelph, Dr Annemieke Apergis-Schoute, University of Cambridge

Whether it's a cultural fear, or something our evolutionary history has taught us to avoid - why do so many people enjoy being scared? Hank Davis is author of the book Caveman Logic, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph, and he explained to Georgia Mills...

Hank - In general, we seek stimulation, whether it's horror movies, or bungy jumping, or roller coasters, we simply seek stimulation.

Going to see a horror film is very much like jumping in the water but keeping one hand on the dock. We're safe. We know we're safe and we're going to expose ourselves to some amount of danger. But we also know at any point we can open our eyes and look around us and see the exit signs, see perhaps a friend or a loved one sitting next to us, so it's a very safe way to indulge in this kind of stimulation. Feel some of it's power but also get out quickly if we need to.

And, of course, there are huge individual differences in that. You couldn't get me on a roller coaster and you perhaps would spend an entire afternoon on them. So there are individual differences.

Georgia - So don't worry if you're not a horror buff - we're all a little bit different. But why would taking your fear circuits for a test drive give you a buzz? I asked Annemieke Apergis-Schoute what's going on in the brain.

Annemieke - All of these systems that are also involved in fight or flight modes also activate your system to be more aroused and to be in this state it also has overlap with other states of more positive types of arousal. So, in essence, to have a bit of this extra adrenalin running through your system can also afterwards make you feel nice, especially if you then realise that you're not actually in danger.

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