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Feature- The Science of Fear and Why We Seek It

Fear is one of the most basic human emotions that is programmed into our brains as a natural defense mechanism towards any threats or danger. This instinct helps alarm us to tread carefully in situations that our instinct might deem as unsafe. Many of us carry our own fears and phobias, but despite this, many often seek to experience the sensation of fear.

With Halloween just around the corner, it seems only natural to celebrate the event with horror movie marathons, visits to man-made haunted houses, and more! However, seeking out fear is not just a Halloween-related phenomenon. Horror flicks are not merely reserved for this holiday- visits to graveyards in the middle of the night, and more, are common activities for fear seekers.

The question remains though: how does fear work and why do so many of us seek to feel it even though it terrifies us?

The defense mechanism we experience we we feel fear is commonly referred to as a ‘flight or fight’ response, which was first coined and described by Walter Cannon in 1915. Originally a physiologist, Cannon soon grew interested in the physical reactions of laboratory animals under stress. While studying the digestion patterns of the animals, he soon noticed physical changes in the digestion patterns as they felt fear and went on to study various effects on the body due to this emotion. This is how the term ‘fight or flight’, otherwise known as acute stress response, was coined. Acute stress response is when our brain reacts to perceived danger and helps us to be safe by preparing our body for action, which can either be fighting the danger or fleeing away from the danger.



Since our body’s natural response is to either fight or flee from danger, why do many of us push through this instinct and seek out fear?

“It's all about adrenaline,” senior journalism student Nadia El-Tawil said. “People like being scared because it gives you a rush. It's like sex. It's a proven fact that being scared releases endorphins similar to sex. It makes your blood rush. It's just fun.”


El-Tawil is no stranger in fear seeking. The journalism student is an avid horror movie enthusiast and has visited allegedly haunted locations such as Gravity Hill in El Paso and the spot where Billy the Kid was incarcerated. According to El-Tawil, the best experience was playing Ouija board in Concordia Cemetery 10 years ago, which she described as an intense experience.

“It was a perfect summer night around midnight,” El-Tawil said. “It was creepy as it was but as we're talking to the board, the candle went out and it was all just bad vibes. The Ouija board said something directed at me about a guy named Bailey who is now my boyfriend but is also my cousins name. We were kids so the creep factor could've been all in our heads.”

El-Tawil shared that she has enjoyed the horror movie genre since she was a child and watched her first horror film at age five.

“Remember when you were a kid and you were calling Bloody Mary into the mirror? I was the kid that scared the living shit out of you,” she shared as she began to laugh from the memory. “Paranormal and horror in general has always been kind of an interest.”

According to El-Tawil, it takes a lot to scare her and when it happens, it’s a huge rush.

“Heart racing, blood flowing, even the jump factor. It's overall fun for the whole family. Well at least my family,” she said.

As El-Tawil shared, fear is all about the adrenaline that follows with it. While the experience itself can be terrifying at first, the rush of endorphins that follow often times make it into an enjoyable experience for some.

Obviously, not everyone enjoys the feeling of fear, but whether you enjoy it or not, it’s an emotion that helps keep us safe from danger. Whether you chose to seek it is up to you. Happy Halloween! 


Fernanda Teixeira is a senior at New Mexico State University who is majoring in Mass Communication and minoring in Advertising/Marketing. When she's not running around on campus, you can usually find her in the corner shoving her face with jellybeans. Her favorite hobbies include talking 24/7 about her dog, showing people photos of her dog, and seamlessly fitting her dog into everyday conversations. Did I mention she has a dog?
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