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SALT LAKE CITY — This time of year, it seems that we can't avoid scary movies. And whether you like them or hate scary films, there is a scientific reason for this.
The music in the theater makes your heartbeat escalate into an uncomfortable rhythm. The character on screen, which you've just started to like, is about to meet their grisly demise. They know it. The audience knows it. Then, the attack. Your heart skips a beat. Your breathing speeds up. You force yourself to calm down.
Only someone who is mad would consider this to be fun, right? Well, it seems we all go a little mad, sometimes.
"I actually love scary movies," one moviegoer told me outside the theater showing "Paranormal Activity 4" at the Megaplex at the Gateway. She, and some other people, told me why they like going to scary movies in the middle of the night.
One teenage girl responded, "Honestly, I love the feeling of being scared. I don't know why. I'll psych myself out to make myself scared, just because I kind of like it."
When we get frightened, epinephrine gets released, and there is also (a) dopamine release.
–Dr. Jane Blackwell
One young man told me, "After that jump, there's a tingly feeling that goes through you."
Fear is not a happy emotion. So, why does being afraid feel so good to so many people?
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jane Blackwell explained, "When we get frightened, epinephrine gets released, and there is also [a] dopamine release."
Blackwell is the Public Education Coordinator for the Utah Psychological Association. She says these brain chemicals combine to form the "relief" we feel after being frightened during a scary movie.
Films are not the only form of media that give us bursts of these chemicals. She says there is growing evidence that shows teens feel the same thing when people get a text.
"There is this addictive quality where you look forward to those bursts," Blackwell said.
Of course, not everyone feels the same way watching a scary flick. Some people just downright hate them.
One teen said, "I plugged my ears the whole time, and that was OK." One man, who used to like horror movies said, "Oh, they frighten me. They just make me feel uncomfortable."
These people might not be getting the same burst of dopamine that other people are getting. So, the unsettled feeling they get doesn't really go away. Plus, Blackwell says there may be some other factors.
"Some people have a more intense stimulus to the startle reflex," she said. "That might be very unnerving for them to be frightened over and over again."
Plus, she says if someone has been traumatized in the past, they might not like to be scared.
She also recommends, to those of us who like to watch scary movies late at night right before we go to bed, that we really knock it off.
"There is strong suggestion that we need to be turning the lights down slowly, telling our body that it's time to slow down and go to sleep," she said.
Just try not to think about Freddy Krueger when you go to bed.