The Science Behind Fear
Boo! Did I scare you? I’m willing to bet not. Halloween has passed, and while the surge of scary movies and creepy décor is laid to rest, sources of fear remain present throughout the year. While I certainly wouldn’t want to be thrown into Sleepy Hollow, I, like many, find enjoyment in scaring myself with a horror movie or thrill ride. But why do we like this type of fear?
Margee Kerr is sociologist who studies fear. She began working for ScareHouse, one of the most highly ranked haunted houses in the country, after earning her PhD in Sociology from the University of Pittsburg. Her job is to create an even more terrifying atmosphere, based on the science behind fear.
First, what makes us afraid? According to Kerr, “An incorrect prediction is profoundly disorienting at a visceral level–as when we mistakenly think there is one stair left going into the basement.” This offers explanation as to why building suspense triggers chills: we do not know what to expect. When the monster finally breaks the tense silence, the shock is immediate.
But once we fall back into our seats, why does the terror subside as quickly as it was born? This is due to our brain’s conception of the situation. At the first sign of shock, the brain rushes into a panic, sensing the “danger.” But once the brain registers the fact that the ghost inside of the television screen poses no real threat, its outlook on the event changes.
“As soon as our brain realizes it’s safe, we reappraise the situation,” Kerr states. It was this secondary happiness that inspired Kerr to apply for her position at ScareHouse, where she has worked since 2008. Her book, SCREAM: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear, tells of her travels to the world’s scariest places in order to explain the reasons behind what causes our fears and how we can overcome them. The book was published in September and holds high reviews.
For more information on Margee Kerr