The Fear Factor of Halloween

Oct 31, 2011

Every year during the month of October countless numbers of people don ghoulish costumes, sit through slasher movie-marathons, and crowd into haunted houses.  Pamela Burke set out to answer the age-old question: what is it about Halloween that makes some normally sane people enjoy going stark-raving mad?

At the Lexington Screampark it's all about things that go bump in the night. From darkness, to clowns, to even your own execution, there's something for everyone to scream about. Hundreds of people line up to spend their hard-earned cash to get scared half to death; but why? Owner Eddie Embry says fear and fun often go hand in hand.

"It's a primal instinct fear is. You do it from the time you're born to fight or flight. It's one of the things that keeps us alive."

A life or death feeling that will keep you coming back for more.

"You're still willing to live on the edge to try it you know, the truth of the matter is it's a very protective environment but you still wanna push it to the edge, and we do the same thing."

Haunted house-goer, Aaron Mays says it's not knowing what's around the corner that excites him the most.

"Something to get your blood pumping, something out of the norm, something that you're not gonna be able to do every day. Just something different."

And it turns out it all stems back to our childhood.

University of Kentucky psychology professor Mike Bardo explains that thrill seeking traits are something that we're born with some people being classified as high thrill seekers, others low thrill seekers.

Bardo also says most people don't intentionally put themselves into dangerous situations by choice; meaning when doing anything, like going into a haunted house, they don't think of any negative consequences. They believe they're going to be relatively safe.

"It's not really dangerous. It's just going to be scary and those kinds of events do attract us. So, dangerous things in our environment or things that are new we're sort of puzzled by them. We pay attention to them because our brains are hardwired to attend to that sort of information."

So, if there's no real threat of danger, why feel fear at all?

"Why do we feel the fear? It's because the fear is not really an intellectual process as much as it is an emotional process that we're born with. So, as much as we know that it's a safe situation, these emotional underpinnings kind of compel us to feel this anxiety, to feel this fear even though we know it's not a truly dangerous situation."

Bardo says the fear is in your head the anxiety you feel...built up in your mind by you alone.

"When you think about Halloween as an example or a scary movie what's added into that, beyond a rollercoaster, is the notion that you now have fangs, blood stains on clothes and these sorts of things are not only novel, they can induce this sort of fear. We begin to start imagining being attacked."

But even professor Bardo would agree that going out to places like haunted houses is all in good fun; from the clown hiding in the corner, to the monster lurking in the dark. Sreampark owner Eddie Embry says he wants you to leave happy.

"It's the experience of escaping. You know they're thrilled, they're excited, most everybody leaves with a smile on their face."

And that ensures there'll be a long line of people at the haunted houses this time next year.