Why is Horror so Scary and Engaging?
If you’re a fan of horror--or, if you’re not--you might find it strange how so many people can both love (and despise) the fear and adrenaline rush of a good horror experience. Whether that's a book, a game, or a movie, for some reason, some people just seem to take it better than others. It’s not a random coincidence or a strange phenomenon beyond our control, however. Far from it, in fact. It’s far easier to understand than that and is mostly based on science and how a person deals with stress and responses to certain kinds of stimuli.
Adrenaline Junkies: Horror is For Them
About ten percent of the population enjoys an adrenaline rush legitimately. Whatever causes that feeling can enact a certain response in the body that leaves the person feeling highly satisfied: even if the movie was really scary or had a particular aspect that really frightened them.
As people, we tend to muddy our memories of certain events, and the parts that set in the strongest are the ones that remain long-term. If your night was positive overall, your brain will tend to gloss over minute negative reactions and momentary bad experiences, even if powerful, as long as there was a bigger positive response that followed it. You may not totally forget that negative response completely, but you might find it muted in your memories: not quite as strong as when it initially occurred.
It’s not hard to see how this would apply to horror films: regardless of how scary whatever was going on in the movie was, if you were out having a good time with your girlfriend or just a great night in general, it’s much easier for your brain to gloss over the temporary fear of the film and remember the entire night as a positive experience.
The Body’s Response to Stress
While ten percent of people may be adrenaline junkies, far more people have a positive physiological response to stress. Some people process it in a way that leaves them feeling good, even if momentarily frightened, and thus might seek out this response in the future. This doesn’t go for everyone, however. Some others may find themselves to be highly sensitive to certain stimuli and avoid specific experiences like the plague (see: your friend who really, really hates horror movies).
Others still may not be highly sensitive, but warier of horror experiences because the way they experience stress isn’t the same. Instead of getting what is essentially an emotional high from the film or show, it kicks in a kind of panic effect that makes an individual either avoid horror in the future or at the very least be wary of subjecting themselves to something like that again.
Not everyone is totally to one side or the other. Many people are a mix of these effects.
It’s far less random and more predictable than most people think when it comes to who likes horror and who doesn’t. Much of the science above has to deal with early childhood experiences, development, and parenting rather than even personality or luck, or chance. Horror is an absolutely amazing genre, but it’s not for everyone, and after reading the information above, you might understand why a little bit more.