It's Halloween season, and that means we're all looking forward to spooking ourselves with haunted houses, scary movies, and ghoulish costumes.
But why do we enjoy feeling afraid? To find out, HuffPost Science reached out to experts in the "science of fear." Here's what we learned:
"For many people everyday life can feel overly routinized and even boring," Dr. David H. Zald, a psychiatry professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., told The Huffington Post in an email. "By contrast, when scared we are fully aware, conscious and in the moment. We are not preoccupied thinking about what happened yesterday or what we have to do tomorrow."
Being scared activates our "fight-or-flight response," which prepares our body to respond to a perceived threat. And that can feel good.
"Our arousal system is activated and triggers a cascade of 'feel good' neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline that influence our brains and our bodies," Dr. Margee Kerr, a Pittsburgh-based sociologist and self-styled "scare expert," told HuffPost in an email.
When we know we're safe, she said, we interpret this state of arousal as a positive experience.
"All it takes is a moment (even less than a second) to realize we’re safe and switch over to laughter and joy," Kerr said adding that this is why "people scream and laugh in haunted houses, and why ‘make-up sex’ is often reported as being so good."
Going through a scary experience can make us feel proud of what we've accomplished, according to Kerr.
"Psychologically when we make it through a safe yet scary activity, it results in feelings of confidence, competence, accomplishment, and success--it’s a real self-esteem boost," she said. "There’s nothing quite like defeating a hoard of zombies in a haunted house or jumping out of a plane to make you feel like you can take on the world. "
The rush of those chemicals can make us feel so good that we want to seek out that "high" all over again.
"If it accompanied or followed by relief or success (such as when accomplishing something despite danger), it can lead to the so-called adrenaline rush, which is experienced as positive and may even have an addictive quality, as people will actively seek experiences that can lead to this rush," Zald said.
Being scared can also make us feel closer to one another.
"Haunted houses and amusement parks are inextricably linked to friends and family," Kerr said. "We’re taking on these challenges together and in doing so creating stronger bonds, stronger memories, and feelings of closeness. If you watch people coming out of a haunted house you’ll see lots of hugs and high fives."
Some scientists say sharing a thrilling experience may even make us more likely to be attracted to someone, because we "misattribute" our arousal from a scary situation to our romantic partner.