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Why do Halloween fears give thrills for some, chills for others?

  • October 24, 2011
Do you dread the dead or kill for the thrill? Real fear lies in the reality of the scare, UAB psychologist says.

Do you dread the dead or do you kill for the thrill? There is no purgatory for fear. Being frightened is heaven for some and hell for others.

Clinical psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham says the answer is in your personality: “Some people are daredevils and they love rollercoaster rides, and other people hate roller coaster rides because they don’t like that feeling of being terrified at the moment the roller coaster is going downhill.”

And that brings us to the ultimate roller coaster of fear emotions, Halloween.

“It is the one day of the year I can let that internal 12-year-old have his way and do all those silly and crazy things you think of year round,” says Tony Warren, kid at heart. “I like putting Vampire teeth in my mouth and going around scaring all the little kids that have terrorized me all year in my neighborhood,” he says, laughing.

Warren is just the type of neighbor Meghan Davis fears.

“I don’t like to be surprised, and I don’t like people sneaking up on me from behind or jumping out at me — especially when there are weapons involved,” says Davis. “I will get scared and stay scared for a long time. I can’t just laugh it off.”

Friedman says children scare themselves in controlled ways as they get older. They can see a ghost costume and be a little scared but they know it is not real and they tell themselves it is pretend. As an adult we know it all is pretend, but according to Friedman, it does not matter.

“Some of it is not realistic like ghosts and skeletons walking but stuff that’s bloody or mutilated, because those things are in the realm of possibility, that’s what’s most frightening to people,” said Friedman.

And that is what’s most thrilling to Warren.

“I love horror films! I love everything that makes you want to turn the lights on,” says Warren. “Ever since I was a kid, Freddy Krueger, Jason — all of that stuff just really got me going and even to this day I still enjoy a good thrill.”

CNBC listed the Top 15 grossing horror movies of all time based on dollars adjusted to 2010 inflation. The Exorcist ranked first followed by Jaws and The Sixth Sense. Those three movies capture psychological fear. There may be blood, but there are no slashers. No Jason, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. And certainly not Saws I, II, III, IV, V, VI or 3D.

Friedman says the horror films of today have too much gore, but she admits to having a more tame personality. Can slasher movies can lead someone to become a serial killer? Probably not, Friedman says. “You know you can take anything to an extreme, including drinking water, but that’s not a common issue. I have never seen that in my practice.”