Entries in Scared (2)


From Halloween to Horror Movies, Why We Love to Be Afraid

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For those who like the genre, a good horror movie arouses a cocktail of chemistry in the cerebral cortex -- the part of the brain that controls memory, perception and consciousness.

And it's not just movies, but amusement park rides and even books and fairy tales that can elicit simultaneously both pleasure and gripping fear.

As Oct. 31 approaches, businesses are capitalizing on the psychology of fear -- the spine-tingling sensation and the joy that goes with it.

This year, Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween horror -- costumes, haunted houses and fright fests -- according to the National Retail Federation.

"We don't have many other holidays that are really directly connected to a strong emotion that is almost universal -- fear and the dark side," said Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University who specializes in thrill-seeking and extreme behavior.

One 2007 study published in Science Daily dispelled earlier assumptions that humans respond to pleasure and avoid pain: "It certainly seems counterintuitive that so many people would voluntarily immerse themselves in almost two hours of fear, disgust and terror.  Why do people pay for this?  How is this enjoyable?" But pay they do: as one example, the third film in the low-budget Paranormal Activity series grossed $54 million over last weekend, making it the highest ever for a film released in October.

Researchers from the University of California and University of Florida concluded what most thrill-seekers know: People can experience both fear and euphoria at the same time.

"Pleasant moments of a particular event may also be the most fearful," it concluded, comparing horror movies to the thrill and fear of extreme sports.

But not everyone likes being scared, according to psychologist Farley, and how a person responds to fear is wired in their personality.  Those who thrive on fear are so-called T-types -- they are thrill-seekers, according to Farley, who coined the term in the 1980s.

"They like uncertainty, suspense, unpredictability, the unknown," he said.  "Uncertainty is the prime source of fear.  You don't know what's going to happen."

Movie makers and amusement park ride creators know how to induce fear.

"There is intensity of stimulation," he said.  "It can be the sound of screams or the visual -- something comes out of nowhere into the face, like a house of horror."

Music is also important, like the pulsating, unforgettable theme of the movie Jaws, heard whenever the great white shark stalked its prey.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Paranormal Activity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Thinkstock/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ask a professor why people think "paranormal activity" really exists, and you'll get one answer. Ask a psychic who de-haunts houses, you'll get another.

The found footage Paranormal Activity horror movies—the third installment, a prequel, opened on Friday—are popular not just because people like to be scared, academics who have researched the field say, but because belief in supernatural forces is deep-rooted in all cultures.

Carson Mencken, professor of sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who co-authored the book Paranormal America, did his research by meeting people across the country who spent their weekends at ghost hunts, psychic fairs, Bigfoot hunts or UFO searches.

"People are looking for enlightenment and they're looking for discovery," Mencken said. "There are hard-core committed believers. For other people it's just a cool thing to do." The enthusiasts are not crackpots, he said. "They are people who come from all professional walks of life."

"Paranormal beliefs are for the most part substitutes for religious beliefs," said Michael Persinger, professor of neuroscience at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada. "People have to believe in something—it's either one or the other."

The most common paranormal experience, he said, is the feeling of a sensed presence—which people may call a ghost, an alien, or a spirit.

The reality of those ghosts is uncontestable to Lorraine Warren and her son-in-law Tony Spera, who run the New England Society of Psychic Research, started by Warren and her late husband Ed. "We don't have to prove to you that ghosts exist," said Spira, 60. "Do you believe in God? He created spirits and there are spirits among us."

He and Warren, 84, help terrified people who believe their houses are haunted.

"People say, 'There's a shadow walking by me’, or 'I hear footsteps and there's no one home,'" said Spera. "They may hear people talking in another room or behind a wall." They may smell a whiff of perfume of a loved one who's deceased.

They quiz the people who contact them to make sure they're not on medication, abusing alcohol or drugs.

If they think the callers are legitimate, Spira said, they will usually suggest having the house blessed by a member of the clergy.

"A lot of the big religions have the rite of exorcism within their teachings. It often works," he said.

If that doesn't help, he and Warren pay a house call. "Lorraine is a clairvoyant, she's a psychic too. As soon as she comes into a house, she would know," Spira said. "She can tell if that entity is a human spirit or from another world."

"When I go into a house where there's infestation taking place, I discern," says Warren.

She recalled a visit to a home in New York State last week where the owner was hearing knockings.

They sat at the dining room table near a big cabinet.

"It was as if somebody took their fist and hit it very hard," she said of the sounds she heard. Things have been peaceful for the last couple of nights since her investigation, she added.

On a trip to England, she said, she visited Borley church in Essex, famous for its White Lady ghost.

"I could feel the energy and I could see this beam of light go right across. It was beautiful to see the spirit of this woman."

Stewart Guthrie, professor emeritus of anthropology at Fordham University in New York City, has studied such phenomena.

"What is a ghost? A ghost is the disembodied spirit of a deceased person," he said. "Why do we see them?” Guthrie explains that “the world is infinitely complex and our means of understanding it are limited. It's a good bet to assume there is something there, some sort of agent, when there's a thud in the night."

"Everybody in every culture has a default label for the unknown," said Persinger.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio