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Can’t Enjoy Horror Films? Blame Your Brain

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Horror got you horrified? Photo credit: iStockphoto

Now that Halloween is over, you’ve probably had sufficient time to recover from the spookiness of the holiday, if not all of the excess candy. Unless you’re my 3-year-old daughter. She’s still talking about the house down the street that could be the poster family for Halloween decorating prowess. They had graves, ghosts, goblins, zombies, jumping spiders, and even a moving Regan from The Exorcist. My kids were both spooked, but my husband and I couldn’t resist trick-or-treating there because they really go all out and we wanted to see it up close.

Next year, though, I think we’ll skip it, as my daughter has been emphasizing how much she disapproves of the creepy house. Even as I’m typing this, she’s playing with Halloween stickers and commenting on the spooky house. I can’t say that I blame her; I’m not one for being scared either. I’ve been thoroughly traumatized by horror movies in the past. After seeing The Blair Witch Project, I had to roll my windows up to drive by a wooded area to get home. I slept on my brother’s floor that night, too. After seeing The Exorcist, I was terrified lying in bed that night, waiting for my bed to start shaking — as an adult! The Ring had me scared to even look at my TV for a day. The movie Scream made me terrified to be in the garage for the longest time.

I’ve called it quits on horror movies, for good, and luckily for me, my husband has, too. I’ve finally gained enough wisdom with age to know that hey, I don’t have to watch them. The fun that is being scared isn’t enough to compensate for the terror and stress and the aftermath of being scared. But plenty of people love scary movies. Plenty of people aren’t scarred (yes, scarred) by them like I am, and they can go back for more and more. So why is it that some can handle that type of stress while some can’t?

It might come down to basic body chemistry. It turns out that people differ in their chemical response to situations like haunted houses and scary movies. One of the main hormones released in these situations is dopamine, and certain people get more of a kick from it than others. One sociologist, a “scare expert” at a haunted house says that a scare that triggers the fight-or-flight response — in a safe situation — triggers that rush of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine. The brain can so quickly process these stimuli that you get the physical scare response while knowing immediately that you’re not really in a life-threatening situation. But for some, the chemicals released can build really strong memories that can be super scary, which is what I’m now going to blame my irrational fears on.

Now that I’ve quit scary films, movie-watching is much less stressful. I know my limits; I watch The Walking Dead, for instance, and while zombies abound, it’s not nearly enough to put me over my scary limit (except I did jump out of my skin during a recent episode). If I get a desire to get really spooked, I’ll queue up a scary movie trailer and get a 2-minute fix that way. It’s usually enough for me to remind myself that I absolutely do not want to see a scary movie.

How about you? Do you love to be scared or would you rather watch the rom-com?

Also from Erin:

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Read more of Erin’s writing at Fit Bottomed Girls and Fit Bottomed Mamas.
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