We are all familiar with the common tropes and gags used in haunted houses everywhere.
We have come to expect at the silence will suddenly be broken by an ear-splitting scream. We know that a long passageway with little decoration means that something soon will jump out at us. We know that a strobe light indicates a scene with fast action that will make us question our safety.
But also at work in those haunted house scenes are dozens of phobias, meant to play not on our fear for our safety, but on our prehistoric lizard brain that often reacts before we have a chance to realize it.
The jump scare
The first most common play on our inbred reactions is the jump scare. We are hardwired to react when a threat suddenly appears in our vicinity.
The closer the threat, the greater the reaction. We can’t help it. When something jumps into our space we have to jump back in reaction.
It is this phobia of sudden death or injury that is being used here.
Fear of harm to our eyes
Some fears are so common that their names aren’t even available in our vocabulary. It is understood that exposed eyes, or injured eyes, send a chill of revulsion down our spines.
This is why you can count on seeing one or more masks that feature eyes with the flesh peeled away. The white orbit appears suspended in air, spinning wildly, untethered by ligaments or flesh.
A second way this is frequently leveraged is in a surgery scene. Here our fears play out as we watch a stranger butcher and remove an eye. This is horrifying in every language, and across eons of humans!
Fear of being trapped
Haunted houses often shunt visitors through tiny hallways. These tube-like structures leave us with few options but to move forward.
And of course, forward almost always means into the arms of danger.
Suddenly, we are left with no choice except to face peril.
Our minds are conditioned to seek escape, and these narrow hallways take away our basic desire for flight. We are left with only the evolutionarily less desirable choice: fight.
“Agent detection” … or that feeling you are unsafe
You have been taught since you were a child to trust your instincts. And with good reason.
Your instincts have been handed down over generations of experience. They all literally contributed directly to your existence, and thus, they are to be trusted.
One of these instincts is the sense that someone is watching or someone is nearby. It is sometimes described as a sixth sense, but there is nothing supernatural at all about it.
You just know.
And haunted houses play on it all the time. Things move, unseen, beneath your feet or behind the wall. These all trigger fears deeper than we can comprehend.
This Halloween look for other fears at play in the haunted houses you visit. Snakes? Spiders? What other phobias will you encounter?