Saturday, October 25, 2014

Boo!

It's that time of the year. Halloween. Fright time.

Although we prefer to be safe and sound, we all love a good scare. Horror is a popular theme in literature. But why? What's the attraction of fear?

It's fear as entertainment that we enjoy. Let me explain. This is what happens when we get scared:

First the stimulus. Since we're primarily visual creatures, the object that frightens us is usually processed from our eyes to the visual cortex in our brain. The visual cortex pings Red Alert! to the cerebral cortex. That in turn tells the emotion-processing parts of your brain, the insula and amygdala, that there is a threat. At the same time, the cerebral cortex starts producing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate to jazz up your physiological response--flight or fight! 

Now the good part of all this--the payoff for getting the pants scared off us--is what happens next and almost simultaneously. As more clues are absorbed by the cerebral cortex--the zombie jumping out of the closet was your sister in costume, the creepy thing in your shoe was a Gummy Bear, the serial killer you're reading about can't escape the pages--the alarm is deemed false. Then the insula and amygdala are told to settle down and gamma-aminobutyric is released to soothe your jangled nerves. Ahhh! By now though, the hypothalamus has been telling your adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline and endorphins. Beside helping to dull pain and energize muscles, adrenaline also sharpens your senses, which heightens the experience. And we know that endorphins are the brain's pleasure cocktail, also produced by exercise and sex. Basically, as you recover from the scare, your mood has been boosted with plenty of feel-good chemicals. I'm surprised that the pharmaceutical companies and their lackeys in the government haven't made getting scared illegal! And once you get your pants scared off, you're free to produce even more endorphins. Either alone or with company. Enjoy!

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