Hey, I’m Laurel, I’m a licensed therapist, and the other day someone asked me a great question. Why do people like scary movies? We’re coming up on Halloween, so I thought it was a cool question to answer.
There are a lot of reasons why people like scary movies, but I want to talk about two in particular. One is the most obvious: some people really love a rush of adrenaline. It brings up all these neurochemical reactions, similar to riding on a roller coaster or doing an extreme sport. Some people just love that rush. It makes him feel alive, it makes them feel in control, and it gives them a sense of vitality that feels really good. That makes total sense. We’re not gonna judge how people go about getting that rush as long as they’re being safe.
The other [reason] is psychologically more interesting: scary movies give people an opportunity to experiment with a sense of control. You expose yourself to something that’s scary, whether it’s a scary slasher film or a really suspenseful [movie] with jump scares, you’re pushing up against that comfort zone, but you also know it’s different than real life. You know that “yes this thing is scary, but I can handle it because it’s not real.” By doing that, you’re building your capacity for handling scary things in real life. It’s kind of an in-vitro exposure to something that is challenging. You may [subconsciously] be thinking “well, I watched this scary movie, maybe I can ask my boss for a raise, or tell my partner that I don’t like something” or whatever it is. Engaging with that experiment around control is what drives a lot of people to love scary movies.
It also, as a benefit, gives you the opportunity to practice self soothing. How do you calm yourself, how do you resource yourself, how do you remind yourself that this isn’t real? Within this experiment with control is the reality that you are safer than the people in the movie, so it gives you a sense of safety because you’re not the one being stalked by a crazy chainsaw guy or whatever it is.
All of these together make a lot of sense that some people love scary movies, and also why some people just do not. Either way is okay.
Happy Halloween! If you’ve got questions you’d love to ask a therapist, feel free to send them in.
Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.