Why we like to be scared

29th August 2021. Reading Time: 11 minutes Stuff paranormal investigators need to know, General. 290 page views. 0 comments.

Do you remember your most profound paranormal experiences?  Do you remember the details clearly of what happened or do you more focus on how it made you feel?  It turns out, our brain really likes these feelings, so do we unknowingly seek out to be scared?   Does it mean that when we are feeling that adrenaline and fear that we are interpreting things the wrong way?

Do you remember your most profound paranormal experiences?  Do you remember the details clearly of what happened or do you more focus on how it made you feel?  I know myself, when I go back to a very specific experience I had on my first paranormal investigation, I can tell you in detail how I felt, right down to the tingles on the back of my neck.  It is that particular feeling we are exploring today.  That feeling of adrenaline, of fear and of curiosity.  It turns out, our brain really likes these feelings, so do we unknowingly seek out to be scared?   Does it mean that when we are feeling that adrenaline and fear that we are interpreting things the wrong way?

Psychology Today lists 5 reasons why we like to be scared:

1. The Safety Net

When we get scared, our bodies will go into fight, flight, or freeze mode; but, even though we are cognitively lazy (as mentioned numerous times throughout this blog), our brains are good at what they do — so, if we are in a setting where we get a “safe” fright (e.g. watching a horror film, visiting a haunted house, or playing a scary video game) our brains will quickly evaluate the situation and tell us that we’re free from risk. Our bodies calm and many of us subsequently enjoy the experience. Thus, many of us are actually seeking "controlled" fear and suspense, because we know we are safe.

2. The Flood

When we get scared, we experience a rush of adrenaline and a release of endorphins and dopamine. The biochemical rush can result in a pleasure-filled, opioid-like sense of euphoria. Coupled with this, when we are reminded of our safety (i.e., the safety net), the experience of fear subsides, and we are left with a gratifying sense of relief and subsequent well-being.

3. Self-Satisfaction

Some people enjoy "pushing the envelope," seeking thrills, and seeing how much fear can be tolerated. If they are able to endure the barrage of anxiety, suspense, and fear, a great sense of self-satisfaction is often experienced. I’ll never forget being scared out of my mind watching The Shining when I was 12 years old, but also being quite proud of myself for making it through the entirety of the film without turning my head away!

4. Closeness with Others

A common piece of dating advice for young men years ago was to take their date to a scary movie. The tip was based on the idea that when their date got frightened, they would curl in for "protection"; thus, reinforcing a bond between the two (this is the G-Rated version of the rationale). Though the advice is certainly dated, there is some truth to it — applying to both people on the date. Given that being frightened releases a biochemical flood that can yield a pleasurable outcome, we often misattribute this arousal (i.e. the pleasurable outcomes of fear) to the individual with whom we’re spending that time; that is, the two people on the date like each other more now because of the pleasurable feeling experienced during their time together at the cinema — not necessarily because of each other’s company, but because of the outcomes of fear.

5. Curiosity

Many people are curious about the "dark side." The fear of the unknown is one of the most natural and instinctive fears that we have — and it is also one of the oldest curiosities. However, another notion I’ve mentioned countless times in past posts it that people like their worlds to make sense —they like things wrapped up in nice, neat little packages. Our world is easier to engage with when things make sense to us; and so, some may choose to engage further with 'the unknown' in order to better make sense of the situation.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/thoughts-thinking/201810/5-reasons-we-enjoy-being-scared

Fight or flight mode

When your brain feels like you are in some sort of danger where it feels that you are at risk of harm or attack, it goes into what is called hyper arousal or acute stress response. It is otherwise known as fight or flight mode. The brain begins to release different hormones that prepare your body to either run for your life, or to stay and confront and fight the threat. It was first described in the 1920s by American physiologist Walter Cannon. What is interesting with this is that it is triggered when the brain feels you are at threat. It may be a very real physical threat or it could be imaginary. We all have different fears and different tolerance levels which is why this mode is extremely personal. What may set one person off, may not bother another person at all. It all comes down to our wonderful little brains. Some people will stand and confront the fear ready to fight and your body has the adrenaline ready with extra energy and strength to help you do so. Others will instinctively run away, and again they have the extra energy and lots of oxygen to help them do that. It all happens within a split second and everyone reacts differently. The fight or flight response is mentioned quite a lot when it comes to paranormal investigating. As this is a personal psychological response, it can also be triggered by phobias. If for example, someone is afraid of heights, going to the top of a tall building and looking down could trigger this response. In the same way, if someone has a fear of the dark, being in a dark room could suddenly trigger a response. It is important to know our bodies and how we react to things. It is also important to note that how we react to things also influences others. If you are at an investigation for example and say a gush of wind has caused a window to make a loud bang. Someone hears the bang and their response kicks in and they start freaking out, others could possibly follow suit. All of a sudden the gush of wind that has caused the window to banged can easily be misinterpreted as a massive paranormal experience that caused the whole team to run outside. Someone may be caught completely off guard and not know what is happening to them. To some, they may even feel like perhaps something paranormal is causing them to feel that way or that someone is with them because again it is something unknown to them. 

Image Source http://neugenleaders.com/the-third-alternative-fight-flight-or/

Adrenaline

How many times have you heard someone say that they have caught 'the paranormal bug' after attending their first investigation?  It is often accompanied by an experience they have had.  They want more.  So they investigate more and more hoping to experience something again.  While there is a curiosity of the things that go bump in the night, in some ways, it is a little like becoming addicted to a drug,  The body wants to feel the sensation again.  That rush of adrenaline they feel when the body experiences something it can't explain.  Your heart is racing, you may start sweating as your fight or flight response kicks into gear.  

The unknown danger is alerted to the part of the brain called the amygdala. This is a part of the brain that helps process emotions.  It then sends this information to another part of the brain called the hypothalamus.  On top of being a critical part of bodily functions, it also releases hormones.  It sends a signal to your adrenal glands which respond by releasing the hormone adrenaline into your system.  You then experience what is called an adrenaline rush.

Image Source: https://www.rosglasrecovery.com/adrenaline-addiction-101/

We all know this feeling.  It can become addictive.  While there is an extreme end of adrenaline rush addiction where people put themselves in serious danger just to feel it, on a much lesser scale, people regularly seek out activity to feel this sensation again.  Is this one of the reasons why we keep coming back to paranormal investigations?  Why?  Because we love the feeling.

Embracing the dark side

There is no secret that a lot of the topics we deal with as paranormal investigators are considered to be morbid.  It turns out, as humans we actually have a natural curiosity when it comes to the morbid.  It is why dark tourism and true crime are so popular right now.  The people that watch and read about serial killers usually wouldn't hurt a fly, but they seek out morbid content merely out of fascination.  It is our natural instinct to put ourselves in the shoes of a person from the safety of our own home.  It is often compared to riding a thrill ride at an amusement park.  You are thrown around in the air and plummeted to the ground at fast speeds from the safety of the ride, however, you are able to experience the thrill of being in danger from a place of safety. 

People like to be scared.  Going to the movies to watch a horror movie (even if you hate horror movies and being scared).  Walking through escape houses where people jump out and scare you.  We seek out the thrill of being scared.  A study shows that to a lesser extent, we naturally gravitate toward images that make us feel uncomfortable because we deep down like how it makes us feel.

This paper examined, with a behavioral paradigm, to what extent people choose to view stimuli that portray death, violence or harm. Based on briefly presented visual cues, participants made choices between highly arousing, negative images and positive or negative alternatives. The negative images displayed social scenes that involved death, violence or harm (e.g., war scene), or decontextualized, close-ups of physical harm (e.g., mutilated face) or natural threat (e.g., attacking shark). The results demonstrated that social negative images were chosen significantly more often than other negative categories. Furthermore, participants preferred social negative images over neutral images. Physical harm images and natural threat images were not preferred over neutral images, but were chosen in about thirty-five percent of the trials. These results were replicated across three different studies, including a study that presented verbal descriptions of images as pre-choice cues. Together, these results show that people deliberately subject themselves to negative images.

Choosing the negative: A behavioral demonstration of morbid curiosity
Suzanne Oosterwijk (2017)

With all of the above to take into account, it is no wonder why the paranormal field is more popular than ever.  While we do have a natural curiosity to find answers for what goes bump in the night, we can't ignore the fact that our body likes to experience the unknown.  Could just our own brain's desire to feel uncomfortable mean we interpret things differently?  As a typical example, when a door slams, your natural reaction is to often jump with fright.  This is a feeling our brain likes.  Because it is unknown and the feeling it induces, are we jumping too quickly to the conclusion that it was something paranormal?  It is something to certainly consider when it comes to dealing with children.  They haven't yet developed the same critical mind as you as an adult have.  Their sense of rational thinking has also not quite developed.  All they know is a feeling of fear and how it makes them feel, and it often makes them feel afraid.  It is a feeling they are not quite familiar with.  Because it is unknown and because from content they digest, they may feel like that fear = bad so therefore it is a bad ghost or monster haunting them.  Helping them get to the root cause of a feeling (which in some cases might simply be feeling a bit scared of the dark) can help work out what is really going on. 

Think about some of the private cases you may have dealt with, or maybe you know someone that feels that have something paranormal happening at home.  Often, they don't want it to go away.  They become addicted to the thought of being haunted.  They seek it out.  Is it because their brain secretly likes the way the fear makes them feel?  I know of many cases where people have tried to help someone, but they don't want to be helped.  They just want to be told yes you are being haunted, as it feeds into this feeling.  They don't want it to go away. They could be enabling this by seeking out ways to continue to feel that way.  Self-sabotage in a way.

It is important to note that not everything is paranormal.  Next time you have an experience, ask yourself, is it the feeling I am seeking or the answers?  It could even be a bit of both.  There is nothing wrong with saying you love the feeling and want more of course.  I know many people that aren't really looking to find answers, they just really enjoy investigating and that is OK!  There is no one size fits all when it comes to how we research or even investigate the paranormal.  At the very least, a small part of you does it because it makes you feel good!  Now you know why it does!


References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/thoughts-thinking/201810/5-reasons-we-enjoy-being-scared

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/202103/fight-or-flight-which-is-better-choice

https://www.healthline.com/health/adrenaline-rush

https://www.rosglasrecovery.com/adrenaline-addiction-101/#:~:text=People%20who%20repeatedly%20and%20purposely,is%20no%20external%20substance%20involved.

Choosing the negative: A behavioral demonstration of morbid curiosity
Suzanne Oosterwijk (2017)

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a19983952/the-psychology-of-rubbernecking/

Cover Photo by Flora Westbrook from Pexels

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