Things That Go Bump in the Night! The Psychology of Fear!


PumpkinsHalloween is coming and suddenly the streets will be full of ghosts and ghouls and witches and zombies. We will watch scary films. We will scare each other. We will go trick or treating. It is a time when suddenly it is fun to be scared! Why?

When we are scared, our bodies prepare themselves to run or to fight – the fight or flight response. When this happens our breathing rate increases, our heart rate increases, our muscles tense and our attention becomes more focussed. We experience an adrenaline rush as our body gets ready to protect itself.

BUT, when we are scared, and know there is no risk of being harmed, we will still experience that adrenaline rush, and most people will find it FUN! Younger children may experience real fear if they are not able to tell that the risk of harm isn’t real. But adults and older children will scream and laugh. They will know that what is happening isn’t real and they will enjoy that feeling of being scared!

A child watching the Wizard of Oz may be scared by the Wicked Witch of the West, but still enjoy the fun of the film. However, show a younger child horrifying images from Zombie Flesh Eaters or Saw and they will be truly scared. A child will not always know that such scary images are not real.

Adults and older children may also still have to convince themselves that scary things they see at the cinema or on TV are not real; they may have to convince themselves that the scary film is not real to be able to enjoy their fear. This ability to distinguish between what is real and not real is what enables us to enjoy being scared!

So (some) people enjoy being scared silly, and Halloween is very popular as a result, because it gives us the chance to indulge that particular pleasure!

Horror films, monster movies, Halloween nights, thrillers and anything safe but scary, is food for our imagination. As we grow up, most of us will put away our childhood fears and become rational and find ways to deal with our irrational fears. This can mean that our imagination can become diminished and bland, though. Our childhood fears of the supernatural, of monsters, ghosts and werewolves, never really go away, hiding instead away in  the depths of our subconscious.  With Halloween, we are able, at least just for one night, to let those fears and thoughts out in public and actually enjoy the thrill they bring.

Environmental Psychologists also argue that the ability to enjoy being scared is also good for our survival. There will be times when we have to go into new situations, hunt for food, or fight to protect ourselves. If we can enjoy this in some way, then this increases our chances of survival, whereas if the fear paralyses us, our chances of survival are obviously not good. Our ancestors who enjoyed the challenge and reacted well to fear were the ones with the best chance of survival.

So go on, enjoy Halloween! Have a good(safe) scare!

Anyone considering looking further into a full study of the fascinating subject of Psychology can choose to study it with Oxford Open Learning. Psychology can be studied at either GCSE or A level.

 

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