It turns out fear isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, recreational fear – the kind of fear you experience on purpose by going to haunted houses or watching horror flicks – can be good for your brain.
Seeking out recreational fear
We know some fear can create a stress response in the body that can be harmful. But our body’s ability to feel fear is, overall, a good thing. It tells us to get away from danger and keeps us alive.
But what about the people who seek out fear?
Even a game of peek-a-boo as a baby starts to prime our bodies for being caught off guard. And it can be exhilarating. When we get a little older, we may tell ghost stories around the campfire. In many ways, we seek out fear. As adults, we may go on roller coasters, see slasher or suspense films, or participate in risky activities like mountain biking or skydiving.
But why do we go after this feeling?
According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), “One hypothesis is that recreational fear is a form of play behavior, which is widespread in the animal kingdom and ubiquitous among humans. When an organism plays, it learns important skills and develops strategies for survival.”
The benefits of fear
By seeking out recreational fear, we put ourselves in a situation that has little risk. And perhaps scaring ourselves in a controlled situation can help us cope with real fear later on.
You can learn a lot about yourself by the way you react to fear. It’s just that not many of us like to acknowledge that feeling or explore it.
Researchers at the Recreational Fear Lab, a research center at Aarhus University, Denmark are looking into the science of fear and trying to learn more about our responses to stress. One thing they’re looking at is the relationship between fear and enjoyment. After all, some people really seem to go after scary experiences in order to hit a “sweet spot” between boring and terrifying.
The question of what makes recreational fear appealing to some is still up for debate. But researchers suspect that “even though fear itself may be unpleasant, recreational fear is not only fun—it may be good for us.”
One suggestion is to not be so afraid of fear, especially when you can control the parameters.
“With research findings such as these in mind, we should maybe think twice about shielding kids and young people too zealously from playful forms of fear.” — WTF fun facts