Halloween: From ghosts to psychopaths, why we love to be scared

Halloween is here

Published on 30 October 2019

Halloween: From ghosts to psychopaths, why we love to be scared

 

Why do we love horror movies? Why are we fascinated by true crime documentaries? And exactly what makes a psychopath?

This Halloween, University of Sunderland Psychology lecturers Dr Amy Pearson and Dr Sophie Hodgetts dig up some dark secrets as part of the University of Sunderland’s podcast series, Sunderland Talks

  

So, why do we like to be scared so much?

According to Dr Pearson, we deliberately seek out horror films and scary rides because being scared reminds us of another, much more pleasant emotion.

She said: “There is actually huge overlaps between how we feel when we are scared and how we feel when we’re excited.

“In both situations we get goose-bumps, our stomach feels uneasy, we start to sweat and our heart rate speeds up.

“These are things which happen when we are scared, but also when we meet someone we find very attractive – there is a thin line between the two.”

 

Why do some people believe they’ve seen a ghost and others don’t?

In the podcast, Dr Pearson suggests those brought up in families with paranormal beliefs tend to interpret experiences differently from others.

She said: “While one person might hear a noise in a room and believe a poltergeist is responsible, another person might just put it down to creaky pipes.

 

Ok, so why do horror films scare us so much, even if we don’t believe in ghosts?

Dr Hodgetts believes the physical sensation these films produce in us, helps explain why we watch them.

She tells the podcast: “Horror films, especially these days, are really good at getting under our skin; they have the ability to make you feel that things are real, they can leave us feeling on edge.”

Dr Pearson adds: “As humans, we seek out the physiological effects that horror film evoke; the sweaty palms, the racing heart, we want to feel these things knowing we are in a safe environment.”

 

So what about psychopathic behaviour?

An archetypal example of a psychopath in the media is someone like James Bond, according to Dr Pearson.

She said: “James Bond is very charming, witty and comes across as very attractive, but he’s also very disagreeable. He’s open to new experiences, he’s impulsive, he’s risk taking, but not very conscientious. Psychopaths have quite a large amount of self-belief – if they believe something is a good thing to do, then they’ll do it.”

 

And how about our seemingly limitless desire for all things true crime-related?

Our human desire to get rational explanations for all things perhaps explains our fascination with true crimes, according to Dr Hodgetts.

She said: “As humans, we like to understand why things have happened; we seek out explanations.

While Dr Pearson added: “We are obsessed with the ‘odd’ and the ‘weird’. It’s alien to many of us why others could do these types of things.”