Fright causes people to scream, jump uncontrollably, run, and lash out in self-defense. It triggers a “monkey brain” response that is rooted deep in our biological imperative to keep ourselves alive.

Nearly everything we have done in the name of civilization is to reduce frightening experiences. We have tamed animals and paved streets and we even light our property at night. We do this all for the purpose of reducing sudden and unexpected encounters that cause us to fear for our lives.

And then, on a Friday night, we gather our friends in the car to drive to the latest thriller / slasher movie at the theater. Or we pop up some popcorn and put in a DVD of an old trusted horror flick.

Or we get a date and some friends and go to a haunted house together.

Why?

Maybe we need to be reminded about fear

Some psychologist suggest that the popularity of horror movies is in part a response to our successful efforts to largely remove actual fear and horror from our daily lives.

The hunter-gatherer past provided us with sufficient stimulation and the real fear of death. However, now that we have generally tackled food insecurity, and we do not fear the sparrows and opossums we encounter in our growing cities (well, we mostly don’t fear them) perhaps we still have a need to be startled.

Reminding ourselves of the fear of death can help people truly feel alive.

This sudden rush of endorphins and the increased blood pressure can push away ordinary aches and pains and make us forget about the boredom and imagined drama of our daily lives.

It’s hard to be mad that Pam forgot creamer at Starbucks when you’re worried about the main character getting eaten by the villain of the slasher show you’re watching!

Fear creates deeper friendships

The reason we have these experiences together is less of a mystery. We want to feel protected safe and secure in the company of friends. We can take greater risks when we know our friends are around us. Having these experiences together with a person we love or like or a person who has long been a trusted friend helps to deepen our friendships.

These movies also allow braver souls to play a role too. The hero of the group can forge ahead, certain in their safety, seen as fearless by the group. One or more scared members of the group may cling tightly to an arm, or squeeze the blood out of a hand. That is a small price to pay to be the hero of a haunted house outing.

So grab a group of friends, and put on your running shoes, and come to a haunted experience this fall.