Exploring the 'dark side' may be a psychological need that's met when the scare is actually over.
Virtually everyone knows what it's like to feel really scared:
A pounding heartbeat. Faster breathing. Nervous perspiration. Butterflies in
But whether that fright is caused by watching a nail-biting
horror movie, listening to a spine-chilling story, or prowling through a
dark-as-night haunted house on Halloween, some people actually revel in feeling
frightened. They thrive on the latest Friday the 13th movie
or Stephen King novel. They relish roller coasters, perhaps even sky diving.
They crave having the bejesus scared right out of them.
Of course, for the mere mortals among us who feel that we're
liable to lose our lunch after just a glimpse of a slasher movie, it may seem
unimaginable that others actually enjoy panic-button experiences. But experts
believe that it's not uncommon for individuals to push the envelope, seeing how
much fear they can tolerate, and ultimately feeling a sense of satisfaction
when they're able to endure the anxiety.
Exploring the Dark Side
What's the appeal of the fright associated with creepy stories?
"There's a long history of people being intensely curious about the 'dark
side,' and trying to make sense of it," says Frank Farley, PhD,
psychologist at Temple University. "Through movies, we're able to see
horror in front of our eyes, and some people are extremely fascinated by it.
They're interested in the unusual and the bizarre because they don't understand
it and it's so different from our everyday lives."
For more than two decades, Glenn Sparks, PhD, has studied the
way men, women, and children respond to terrifying images in the media.
"Some people have a need to expose themselves to sensations that are
different from the routine," he says. "While experiencing a frightening
movie may have some negatives, individuals often derive gratification because
the experience is different."
Several studies have shown that males like scary films much
more than females do. "It's not that they truly enjoy being scared,"
says Sparks, professor of communication at Purdue University. "But they get
great satisfaction being able to say that they conquered and mastered something
that was threatening. They enjoy the feeling that they 'made it
Quite commonly, at the end of the terrifying movie, an
individual may walk out of the theater with a profound sense of relief, adds
Sparks. "He may just be happy that the film is over."
Farley, former president of the American Psychological
Association, has studied people who have what he calls "type T"
(thrill-seeking) personalities. These men and women thrive on the uncertainty
and the intensity associated with activities that most people consider to be
hair-raising -- from riding roller coasters to bungee jumping. "Sky divers
will tell you it's the thrill, the rush, and a little element of fear that
motivates them to push themselves to the extreme," he says.