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Why we love to be scared

Nicholas Ransbottom, West Virginia State University

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I think that fear is without a doubt the best emotion a human being can experience, simply for the fact that it's completely pure. You can be "kind of happy," "sort of mad" or "a little sad," but you can never be "almost scared." Fear is an absolute, an emotion that can never be diluted.

The truth is that being afraid is when you feel the most human. Sure all emotions are universal, but fear is primal. It's been with us since we evolved and were first able to feel.

But fear is clearly bad, right? It's a warning, a defense mechanism telling us to get away from a dangerous situation. It's meant to protect us from harm. It's not supposed to be enjoyable.

So why do people voluntarily scare themselves?

Fear produces what is known as a "fight-or-flight response." This response is supposed to alert us of danger and prepare us to either fight or flee the situation. During this response, the brain produces certain hormones, specifically epinephrine, which is better known as adrenaline.

Adrenaline releases special chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins are produced during a number of activities, including exercise, pain, love and sex. Endorphins interact with opiate receptors in our brain to give us a calming effect, similar to drugs like morphine or codeine. They relax us and give us higher tolerance of pain.

Endorphins also can stimulate euphoria.

Euphoria is a condition that causes us to feel a sometimes overwhelming sense of pleasure and relief. And therein lies the key to why people love to be scared: euphoria.

One way people like to be scared is by watching horror movies. Your senses are heightened when you watch a horror movie due to the adrenaline you're experiencing from the fight-or-flight response. Once the movie is over, though, your body relaxes, and your brain releases endorphins. This is why even if you're terrified during a horror movie, you feel a great sense of relief afterwards.

And feeling this way is fun. It's fun to be scared out of your wits, and it's fun to experience complete and utter terror because the way you feel in the end is worth it. 

Some adrenaline junkies choose to climb mountains or jump out of a plane to get their euphoric fix. But me? Well, I'm fine watching some Asian horror movies.


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