Carson Felkel, MD, FAPA,
Healthy Living

Why Do Some People Love Getting Scared? The Psychology Behind Fear with Dr. Felkel

Oct 13 2023

Halloween is almost here, which means spooky season is in full swing.

Everywhere you go, there are houses draped in cobwebs, lawns occupied by skeletons and all the pumpkin flavored or scented offerings are impossible to escape. However, the true hallmark of the holiday is the fear factor. Themes of horror permeate the home décor, the costume choices, even our TV screens during this time of year.

So, why is it that so many people love being scared?

“When someone is afraid, it releases cortisol and adrenaline, which can boost your energy,” Carson Felkel, MD, FAPA, our ministry’s system medical director of behavioral health, explains. “Dopamine is also released, which can make you feel happier, too.”

Going to a haunted house, watching scary movies or taking part in other fun designed to elicit fright allows people to experience the excitement without the danger.

According to Dr. Felkel, there are a few different personality types that may find the opportunity to be spooked especially appealing:

  • Thrill seekers: These people may feel very little normally, but when they go through something like a haunted house, they feel arousal or some other feeling.
  • The overanxious: Some people feel anxiety all the time – those with a generalized anxiety or panic-type personality. Doing something that gives them a temporary increase in anxiety helps, because when that’s gone, they actually feel better.
  • The competitors: This group wants to overcome something and enjoys challenging themselves. By being able to go through the haunted house or endure some scary situation, they feel as if they’ve accomplished something and may feel much better about themselves as a result.

Dr. Felkel adds that the Halloween holiday affords everyone the opportunity to safely explore their fears, and he encourages those who wish to do so to consider doing so in a group setting.

“I think the best scenario is to go with a group of friends,” he shares. “You’ll frequently see people get scared and then laugh. People are making a choice to be scared and achieving success by going through with it. This not only makes them feel happy, but they’ve also solidified a memory with their friends that is going to be a lasting memory.”

However, no matter what haunt you choose to test your bravery, it’s important to do your research first.

“It’s important to read the disclaimers on anything you sign to see if people can touch you or what actually may happen during your scare experience,” Dr. Felkel advises. “The huge element here is choice – choosing to be scared. If someone is not in one of these settings or not clear on the boundaries agreed to and something bad happens, there’s zero choice. That is no longer a fun environment, and dopamine-positive emotions are not occurring because it’s instead a stress or trauma response.”

Remember, the whole point of Halloween is to make fear fun! But if you find yourself dealing with anxiety or excessive worry throughout the year, it might be time to seek professional help.

Learn about the behavioral and mental health services we provide at Bon Secours.

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