The success of horror films like Paranormal Activity and the classic Exorcist has left many scientists wonder why people love the spooky genre so much.

Experts have said that it’s not merely an attraction to blood and gore that people money to get scared. Researchers have said that this could be because the thrill calls up primal behaviour, mainly in males, to assess threat levels.

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice,” Live Science quoted Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. “You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects,” he added.

He and other social scientists suggest we watch for different reasons, which include enjoying the adrenaline rush, being distracted from mundane life, vicariously thumbing our noses at social norms, and enjoying a voyeuristic glimpse of the horrific from a safe distance.

“Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise,” said Goldstein.

In fact, New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux has mapped out neuron-by-neuron how the brain’s fear system works. He says the complex human brain with its enormous capacity for thinking, reasoning, and just plain musing, allows us to worry in ways other animals can’t.

This means that fear is not merely a biological reaction, but an emotion derived from both deep-seeded evolutionary factors as well as newly learned cautions. Conversations between the brain’s primitive amygdala and the more recently acquired cortex allow humans to interpret an environmental event and respond with an emotion such as fear.

LeDouz said that scary movies can cash on this. “If you have a good imagination, you can connect to your hardwired fears simply by thinking about a scary situation,” he added.

However, until now the amygdala has the upper hand in the fear response. “This may explain why, once an emotion is aroused, it is so hard for us to turn it off,” he said.

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