[Haunted Houses and Rides]

Why Do We Love the Scary or Strange?

We Love Scary

I am besotted with the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky. I find things some would consider weird, wacky, or “way out” to be wonderful and whimsical, which is more in line with how I like to see the world anyway (you’re welcome for all that alliteration).

I’m not sure if I can attribute my admiration for the darker side to my guardians never shielding me from the media they were enjoying, the fact that the first 15 years of my reality were very dark and unusual, or something more simple like “some people just have a predisposition to be appreciative of the fringe.”

When I was a kid we moved around a lot, I became very adept at attempting to make friends, and the art of finding common interests with anybody. I have learned that almost everybody loves a spooky story, solving a mystery, taking a thrill ride, or thinking about alternative realities.

We Want to Know

I think Dr. Frank Farley, PhD, a psychologist at Temple University, explains it fairly concisely in a study piece published on WebMD (but please don’t search your symptoms on their site after you read the article, that’s not a type of scary anyone needs to experience):

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.

I feel like that could be applied, not just to horror movies, but a love for most of the freakier things in life. We want to understand as much as possible and we learn from experience. As a species, we really want to learn. We are driven to understand at our core because the more we know, the better we can protect ourselves and survive. I tend to enjoy myself when I am learning as well. I think that’s pretty common to feel good and fulfilled while expanding our minds.

In addition to gaining new knowledge about the world around us, seeking out the morbid or frightening might be a way we’ve learned to cope, with either something personal, or even the world itself. I’ve also heard the theory of symbolic catharsis, which says if we take-in dark, strange, or scary media, it’s our way of getting out the energy, so we don’t actually act out our darker fantasies.

Symbolic catharsis might be real, true, and helpful for some, but it is not the case for myself and most of the people I know. I struggle with applying that school of thought to your average theme park attendee or horror movie fan. Some of us can also get a kind of high off the juice that pumps through our brains when we “get a scary” as I used to say when I was a toddler.

Silly Spooky Skull

I’m not a medical professional, but I have thought a lot about, and studied, these phenomena. I think, psychologically-speaking, most folks can enjoy and get pleasure from a thrill. As long as that thrill, which would otherwise trigger the unpleasantness of fight or flight, is experienced in a known “safe” environment.

Some might feel accomplished after experiencing a safe scare, others might feel protean, and some might feel relief or even elation. For me, I see it as a kind of study, with a healthy dose of increased dopamine, so I guess I would fall mostly into the “feeling more well-rounded” category with a pinch of “junky.”

There’s the aspect of Learned Fears (you guys should check out The Baby Albert Experiment, it’s kinda fucked up) versus Genetic Fears, which have served us as human animals in evolving. Both play an important role in thriving and surviving, and I feel like in evolution, Learned Fears can become Genetic Fears.

Gossiping Ninnies

I recently overheard a woman, maybe a few years younger than me, say to her friend “I always wonder what is wrong with people who like horror movies…” It took me everything I had to not interject myself into their conversation, letting them know if they are into roller coasters, true crime fans (like all the young women seem to be these days), police procedural dramas like CSI, screaming their way through a haunted house during Halloween, rock climbing or similar extreme sport, swapping scary stories around a camp fire, or even just driving a little faster than you are supposed to when there’s no one else on the road, you are triggering the same parts of your brain as someone watching horror films. Plus, you snobby bitch stranger, horror movies help make me feel like my life ain’t so bad.

At least I’m not living in the haunted house next door to the killer, ya know?

What do y’all think? What kind of strange things do you enjoy? Do you like to feel spooked? Are you a snooty fancy-pants stranger who thinks I’m mentally ill because I like horror? Let me know!

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Born of a mother who loves horror fiction, a father enamored with conspiracy theories, and raised by her true-crime expert grandmother, Marilynn has never been a stranger to the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky and lives by the motto "Halloween Is Everyday". While taking a creative writing course Marilynn found many of her passions could be combined and expanded on through writing for fun, and she began to express her fondness for the peculiar things in life through her writing.

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