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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" continued...

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.

Sparks describes a woman in her late thirties who saw Silence of the Lambs, and found the film so terrifying that she didn't eat meat for the next six months. When The Exorcist was initially released three decades ago, there were several cases of adults who experienced such high levels of distress that they needed to be hospitalized.

Yet for adolescent boys in particular, they may consider these kinds of films to be a rite of passage, exposing themselves to images and stories that were taboo when they were younger.

"Most of these films depict transgressions of conventional values and morality," says Rappoport. "There's an attraction to their 'forbidden' nature, in the same way that many adolescents want to know what it's like to drink too many beers, smoke cigarettes, or drive their car too fast."

The Ultimate Fear Experience

For people who just aren't satisfied with the run-of-the-mill terrifying movies or the everyday shaking-in-your boots novels, New Yorkers can now take the fear factor to the next level. The prescription: Order your own "designer kidnapping."

For a rather hefty price tag (ranging from $1,500 to $4,000), a newly formed business in New York will arrange to have you abducted, tied up, gagged, and kept confined for hours or days to instill as much fear in you as possible. The specific twists and turns of your own kidnapping can be customized depending on your own preferences and idiosyncrasies for personal terror.

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