This is probably why you love horror movies

Recently we celebrated the only day in the calendar when we can rejoice the word “Rakhi” (an oddity after it was desecrated by a certain Sawant). It is also probably the only occasion when siblings – hazed by a maelstorm of ornamental bracelets, money, and gifts – cut their brothers/sisters some slack.

Once this haze clears, we are reminded of the mental and physical tortures we have endured for their entertainment. What I am trying to say is that the Conjuring series owes much of its box office success to older siblings who in most cases are always the ones to introduce the concept of ghosts/spirits/possessed dolls – basically anything supernatural and evil – into the till-then untarnished conscience of their younger brothers and sisters. I was merely 5 years old when my elder sister (who was eleven then) would yell out that I was being chased by blood sucking ghosts every time she outraced me to the top of the stairs and into a room above, making me hurriedly clamber up the remaining steep, pre-independence era steps (possibly risking Jill’s fate) to where she was for safety. Once in the room, the lights would turn off and I would be greeted with the second part of the torturous game – in an eerie voice she would announce that I was now locked in a museum and she was a decaying mummy that had come to life, leaving me caught between a rock and a hard place. True story. I am incapable of cooking up such morbidity.

Decades have gone by since I last fell prey to this trick, but I still often find myself wondering why some people take such great delight in scaring others – and why some people enjoy being scared.

Though the immediate response to the first would be to interpret the perpetrator as a narcissist and psychopath, the fact that these pranks are done to people one presumably cares about – like ones own children, or siblings, or friends – dismisses that idea. But while the thought that there is an element of power involved even offends some, others admit there’s a definite appeal to controlling somebody else via words, to hijacking their imaginations and producing a real psychophysiological response in other people—to moving people.

A research published in Psychological Science makes the case for “everyday sadism,” indicating that scary pranks might actually be a kind of subconscious drill we make on undergo, and even choose to undergo ourselves,  to prepare us for situations that actually warrant terror or fear and increase our chances of survival.

I’ll pass.

Coming to those who enjoy being scared – you can find endless researches and online articles on that! I suppose I am not the only one who is perplexed by people’s affinity to horror flicks, house-of-horrors, midnight walks through the graveyard, or even roller-coasters.

Usually when we’re scared it IS a bad thing, it’s our bodies well developed threat response system letting us know something is not quite right, and preparing us to run or fight. This sophisticated system triggers a chemical cascade meant to help us survive: adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin among others flood our bodies and brains during (and for a while after) a scary situation. But this response shares a lot with other high arousal responses, like when we’re happy, excited, and surprised. The context is what is important when it comes to whether we put a positive or negative spin on the experience. Being scared lost in the woods alone with no help in sight—bad; being scared lost in a haunted house with your friends, with professionals no more than twenty feet away ready to whisk you out of danger—good!

What did confuse me at one point about those who flock to the theatre every time an Annabelle/Conjuring movie is released was: if pranksters can be viewed as narcissists, does it mean that the mass that enjoys being scared also enjoy being reminded that they are cowards who readily feel shivers down their spine at the sight of a freakish looking doll? Turns out, no. Apparently, the experience can serve as a confidence booster, reminding one that they can make it through a scary situation; that they are strong.

But for others like me who are yet to come to terms with blood sucking ghosts chasing us up the stairs, and resurrected mummies in a locked museum, we will probably choose a TEDtalk for boosting our confidence and sit out last week’s Friday release.

by Zaiceka Ahmed


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