Fear: Why we love it

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SALT LAKE CITY — Happy, sad, excited or angry. Everyone feels these basic human emotions. But there is one that outshines them all the most during the month of October.

That emotion is fear. Distressing, and sometimes bone chilling, fear.

"When we talk about fear we talk about it as one of the basic emotions that people experience," Jeanine Stefanucci, University of Utah associate professor of psychology, said.

What is it about being afraid that is so desirable?

"I love the adrenaline. Like, I'm excited to feel the adrenaline," Sierra Renzello, 15, said, while waiting in line for a haunted house.

"We just want to have fun with our friends, I don't know," Ally Hayward, 15, said.

Stefanucci said there are several reasons.

"It's negative, it's arousing, and it activates a sort of avoidance response in people," Stefanucci said.

"You just feel like the chills going down your back," Muranda Cisneros, 15, said.

I like the rush and like the feeling you get when you get scared and then after you feel like, oh that was stupid. I shouldn't have been scared of that or something.

–Elizabeth Reese, haunted house visitor

"I think it's like funny, being like scared of things," Mallory Jasperson, 14, said.

During the Halloween season especially, Stefanucci says there is a biological motivation.

"When you experience fear, biologically there are hormones that are secreted into your system that actually activate adrenaline," Stefanucci said.

It's the same "nice feeling" people exercise to achieve through adrenaline, endorphins and hormones, she said.

Fear can also be good training.

"It also helps us then understand how we might deal with that response in a real setting that could be truly threatening," Stefanucci said.

"I like the rush and like the feeling you get when you get scared and then after you feel like, oh that was stupid. I shouldn't have been scared of that or something," Elizabeth Reese, 14, said.

"The idea that fear is contagious is actually a good one. If you can see fear in others, then you know there may be a threat in the environment and you need to do something about it," Stefanucci said.

And for many, the spooky holiday is about spending time with friends.

"There's a sort of social aspect of fear that people like to go out in groups to experience fear together, and that actually becomes fun," Stefanucci said.

And for some, the response to fear is actually laughter, which can be contagious.

"If you keep exposing yourself, I think the literature really shows that this is good. You will actually overcome your fear over time."


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Emilee Bench


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