Do You Like Scary Movies? Here's a Theory Why

Image via Scream/Universal.
Image via Scream/Universal.

Boo, did I scare you? If so, it may be because of the way you are wired, according to neuropsychiatrist Katherine Brownlowe, whom the L.A. Times interviewed to get to the bottom of why some people like to be scared while others don’t.

“We are all born with different personalities and temperaments, and from the get-go, some of us are more daredevil risk-takers than others,” says Brownlowe, confirming that much like cockroaches, some humans are brave and some are not. Brownlowe elaborates:

Some people’s brains are just set up so they don’t find the experience of being scared to be negative or they need more heavy stimulus to generate a fear response.

There is also an additional overlay of personal experience — things you’ve learned from your family while growing up. Also, someone who has been traumatized is less likely to enjoy things that are fearful.


Brownlowe also says that being scared ultimately relaxes people: “We have hormones and neurotransmitters that turn the volume up when we’re frightened, but once a person is no longer in a scary situation, there is a counter-balance system that calms things down.”

Framed as this is, though, it assumes that people watch horror movies for the visceral experience. As an aficionado, I can assure you that you can watch these movies from a remove so that the experience is less about being scared and more about what the filmmakers are doing in an attempt to scare you. But maybe I’m just desensitized at this point. Surely, the best horror movies are somehow scary—the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is so unsettling in its overall vision and aesthetic that you can practically smell it.

If you haven’t graduated to the point where you can build a wall between yourself and the movie and find yourself ruminating over something that you wish you could unsee, Brownlowe offers this advice:

Reminding yourself it wasn’t real will help you get perspective on it and allow your frontal lobes to calm down the amygdala and that anxiety response.

You can also try mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques are designed to take people out of their heads and get them back to reality and what’s actually around them.


In other words, to avoid fainting, keep repeating to yourself: It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie. Some 45 years later, science is finally catching up to the tagline of The Last House on the Left.

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

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In the Venn Diagram of life, I’m sure the “Daredevil Risk takers” overlap with those who love horror movies - but it’s definitely not 100%. I’m an adrenaline junkie who LOVES roller coasters and I’d totally go shark-diving etc. but I HATE horror movies. I receive no joy from them. Nightmares and general uneasiness, sure, but no fun.

I think it’s because I have a very good imagination so in my mind I immediately go “what if *I* was in that situation” and then I start freaking out. I was stuck on a bus (school trip) and for some reason they thought it was a good idea to put Saw II on the TVs??? It was daylight, I only caught little bits due to doing my darndest not to pay attention, and I still got nightmares for a few days. The horrible torture tableaux in that movie still stick with me and that trip was 10+ years ago. THEY THREW HER INTO A PIT OF USED NEEDLES. AHHHHHHHHH!