UWMed: The science of scares: what makes us love fear

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Photo courtesy UW Newsroom

Nothing is quite as scary-fun as Halloween. People of all ages seek thrills and chills — and a little sugar, too — dressing up like vampires, zombies and demented ax murderers. But what, exactly, happens in our brains and bodies when we play with fear?

It turns out our obsession has primordial origins in the fight-flight-or-freeze reflex, and lives in the same part of our brain as love and happiness. While we’re no longer running from sabertooth tigers, our fear responses are still hard-wired into the way we see the world.

We’re also chasing a chemical high, not unlike that sugar rush so many kids pursue each Oct. 31.

“Those adrenaline and dopamine releases that we get, they're also linked to pleasure centers in the brain,” said Michele Bedard-Gilligan, an associate professor in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. 
“For many of us, that feels fun and exciting to kind of have that type of reaction, particularly when it's happening in a space that we know is actually not objectively dangerous.
For more, read this blog post


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