The science of scared: What makes us afraid?


Erich Miller

What makes you most scared?

by Sammie Hoefs, Editor

Do you get scared easily? Are you afraid of the dark? Do you hate horror movies? Do haunted houses freak you out?

Halloween, the scariest holiday, brings some people joy and, in some cases, tears. It seems kind of odd that people would enjoy being scared, but studies show it is our bodies’ natural reaction.

According to Margee Kerr, Ph.D., sociologist, on Health Line, she writes, “Positive feelings are caused by different neurotransmitters and hormones released when the body feels fear. These are all triggered by the body’s sympathetic nervous system.”

When faced with a scary situation, it becomes a body vs. brain that plays a big part in whether a person enjoys being scared. The frontal lobe does most of the thinking and will tell if you are ok. So when someone is in a haunted house and they get scared, the body will go into fight or flight mode. However, the frontal lobe knows you are safe and your nerves will begin to calm down. 

There are two different types of fear: one can just lead to an exciting adrenaline rush and the other one frightens you to the point of tears. Doing something you are afraid of can make you feel that sense of fear; however, overcoming that brings you that sense of comfort. Many people who enjoy being scared find comfort in knowing that most of the scary Halloween pranks are all fake, often funny.

In a recent poll by Lancer Media, participants voted on what makes them most afraid:  36% voted spiders; 23% voted clowns; and 23% voted heights.  These feature into scary movies all the time.

Many people who do not enjoy being scared could probably sit and watch a horror movie with friends. They can easily close their eyes. However, you probably won’t see them out at a haunted house. For the people who find joy out of being scared, Halloween was made for them.

“I absolutely love horror movies. I find them to be exciting and entertaining,” said Diana Bryan, member of Class of 2021.

According to the Washington Post, “Fear gives us a rush of hormones that make us faster and stronger. . . A hormone called epinephrine (which you probably know as adrenaline) is released to trigger these superpowers, and it can wind your body up so tightly for action that it makes you shake in your boots.”

Most studies on this topic talk about how many people in haunted houses usually scream and jump in the air because they are so afraid, but usually end up laughing because of their reactions.

Karlee Duda, Class of 2021 said, “I hate being scared. I could never go to a haunted house, especially knowing I was going to be scared.”

Most studies show it does not take much for a person to be scared. What causes people to be afraid, is when they are in situations that they cannot handle. The brain is unaware of the situation and does not know how to react.

If you are a person who tends to be afraid in scary situations, you can limit the power your brain has on you. Three easy things will help you deal with these situations. Preparation, take action and relax. People cannot generally control their fear, so to take action focus on something you can control, this will put your mind at ease.