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Thrill-Seekers Thrive on the Scary

Exploring the 'dark side' may be a psychological need that's met when the scare is actually over.

"Type T's"

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.

According to Farley, some people enjoy the physical sensations that can accompany being scared -- from the adrenaline rush to the racing heart to the perspiring palms. In his studies of people who thrive on riding roller coasters, "there's almost nothing else, including sex, that can match it in terms of the incredible sensory experience that the body is put through."

As for children, an event like Halloween can provide an enjoyable and safe way to explore and experience fear, knowing that the goblins and witches stalking their neighborhood are only make-believe. Leon Rappoport, PhD, describes Halloween as something akin to an exorcism, allowing children to work through and release pent-up emotions and anxieties.

"They're being given the license to probe at least the superficial anxieties about magical transformations, which, in the imagination of a child, are not completely foreign," says Rappoport, professor of psychology at Kansas State University. "The experience provides a sort of relief in much the way that an exorcism could be said to do."

The Scariest Films

In recent years, if you're someone who savors the heart-in-your-mouth images of frightening movies, you've certainly had plenty to keep you entertained. In 1998, Sparks conducted a survey to determine which films people regard as the scariest they've ever seen. These so-called "Seven Deadly Films" are Scream, Friday the 13th, The Shining, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and Poltergeist.

Of course, some people would prefer to completely avoid those or any other scary flicks -- about one-third of the population falls into this category, says Sparks. For them, there's no redeeming value to stories that leave them frozen with fear.

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