Trick or treat? How many of you will hear this from some masked child behind the door of the house, on October 31st, on the occasion of the feast of Halloween. And if instead you were the one to pronounce the fateful nursery rhyme, that you have a few more years? Because basically, al charm of fear, you can’t resist. Neither as children nor as adults. The thrill of a healthy fright arises from afar and awakens the body, causing a storm of hormones.
Well, science takes care of explaining why fear can be enjoyable. Revealing, in part, the secret of the success – also in our country – of Halloween, a party that has its origin and maximum expression in the United States.
Because we are ‘addicted’ to fear
There is a first mechanism that is activated in the brain when we experience a feeling of fear. “When we see a horror movie or something that scares us, we perceive one stimulus which induces a feeling of alertness – he explains Antonio Uccelli, neuroscientist and scientific director of San Martino di Genova – this is because the sensory stimulus activates the amygdala, which is in the deepest part of the brain, which activates other centers and the glands that produce hormones. An important physiological mechanism that it serves to defend us. The hyperstimulation of the amygdala, which has generated an alert system, triggers a series of response mechanisms that induce one to react to danger ”.
As for the so-called recreational-recreational fearthen there is a second mechanism which is what explains, in part, why we are like this attracted.
“The fact that nothing happens, or that there is no real danger, involves a second activation of the nervous system, which passes through the dopamine and endorphin systems – continues Uccelli -, hormones that give us a feeling of satisfaction. So on the one hand there is the excitement and the activation which, if it manages to stay within the limits, becomes stimulating, and on the other the relaxation associated with the knowledge that the danger was fake. This is the basis of why people go back to horror movies or love mystery. So fear ‘when taken in small doses‘is something that the human being seeks“.
So we don’t like fear as an end in itself, but what we are looking for is the one in which there is no real danger. And our instinctive gesture of covering our eyes and ears in front of frightening scenes is an autonomous way of dosing the fear within the tolerance limits which are, of course, subjective.
“Whoever is afraid modulates the stimulus pinching their ears or eyes, because the distressing excess of stimulation makes you feel unpleasant ”explains the expert. The mechanism of fear is one of those archetypes of primordial stimuli, along with hunger and sexual desire, which allow us to survive. All stimuli that underlie the main functions regulated by the deeper parts of the brain.
What is the line beyond which fear can hurt?
“There is no precise line that is the same for everyone. It depends on individual susceptibility – explains the scientific director of the San Martino di Genova -. However, there is a boundary beyond which this feeling of arousal, followed by a feeling of contentment, becomes annoying. For example, there are people who do not like horror films because their level of identification is so strong that they cannot appreciate the distinction between the stimulus contextualized as fake, which excites but does not generate anguish, and the stimulus that makes one feel bad ” . Fear, therefore, is good but must be measured according to our feelings. And instead how to deal with The smallest?
“Our childhood brain is a organ in progress and the ability to respond to certain stimuli is not yet fully developed – the neuroscientist makes clear -. In general, a young brain is not yet able to adequately process and contextualize information. There is also a system that allows us to process the memory of what happened and in the end, for a child, there is a risk that certain visions, if not adequately filtered, could become traumatizing“. So on Halloween it’s okay to be daring, but in quantities tailored to each one.