How do horrors influence our brains & why do we like them?
Fear is a complex emotion that serves an important purpose in our lives. It is often seen
as a negative emotion that holds us back from achieving our goals. Nonetheless, it has many
positives as it warns us of danger and helps us prepare for potential threats. Fear is a survival
mechanism that has developed over millions of years. It has helped our ancestors to stay alive in
dangerous environments. Nowadays, many people enjoy being scared and see fear as a form of
pleasure. This type of recreational fear can be found everywhere, from childhood games of peek-
a-boo and hide-and-seek to more grown-up activities like engaging in horror books, games, and
Horror movies are a prime example of how fear can be enjoyable. They appeal to our
curiosity about morbid and threatening subjects, and they can elicit a mix of emotions in the
brain, including fear and excitement. By watching horror movies, we can learn about our own
emotions and how to deal with dangerous situations. Horror movies also provide a safe way to
experience fear, allowing us to learn about our own physiological and psychological responses to
Overall, recreational fear may be good for us. It allows us to play with fear, challenge our
limits, and learn about our responses to stress in a controlled environment. Additionally,
preliminary research suggests that some people with mental health issues, such as anxiety
disorder and depression, may find relief from recreational horror. Lastly, repeated exposure to
horrors has a desensitization effect making people less emotionally reactive to such images and
concepts over time. This can result in lower levels of future anxiety and fear.
The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a
perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival, which is a main theme of the horror genre.
During this reaction, certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol are released influencing
physiological responses and goes as described:
1. Scary movies bypass the conscious parts of the brain to tap directly into the fight-or-flight
2. It begins in the amygdala, which evolved to respond immediately to anything that looks
like a threat, regardless of how real it is.
3. The amygdala sounds the alarm to your body, first activating the hypothalamus (vital role
in controlling many bodily functions), which tells your adrenal glands to inject you with a
big boost of adrenaline.
4. This causes the heart to pump faster and faster, delivering more oxygen to the muscles in
case you need to fight something or run away.
The Exorcist may not be real, but your brain isn’t going to take any chances.
The most effective element of a horror movie, though, isn’t even the on-screen monsters,
but rather the background music. The screechy, discordant, non-linear noises that build and
crescendo sound enough like a baby’s scream that they activate the same genetically hardwired
response pathway that a wailing child does. Some of the horror movies that do a great job with a
balance of scary images and sounds are: Sinister, REC 1, Insidious, Hereditary, and the