It’s that time of year again, when the streets are lined with ghouls and monsters, department stores are filled with plastic skeletons and more candy than they have room for, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s finally Halloween! Even though I’m a sucker for all things pumpkin, I’m most excited about all the new horror that comes with each Halloween season.
I’ve always loved anything that’s designed to scare. Ghost stories, zombie hoards, slasher flicks, you name it; I was that kid in junior high that made my friends watch the Blair Witch Project for my birthday party! There’s just something so exciting about the sense of unease that comes with being scared and so, it seemed fitting that my first post with GradLife McGill should be about fear.
Of course I’m not alone in my love of horror, and perhaps it’s not surprising that my grad student tendencies lead to me wondering why so many of us are drawn to fear. A couple PubMed searches later and it turns out that I’m not alone in my curiosity either.
Researchers have looked at the allure of being scared from many angles and in many disciplines. Some psychologists have theorized that people are drawn to horror as a way to “practice” reacting to real-life situations (1). There’s even research on how horror movies help bond couples on dates (2)! After all, according to data scientists at OkCupid, liking horror movies is the number one predictor of long term relationship success (3). But as a meta-analysis in Media Psychology points out, the love of being scared might all come down to the way we interpret our reactions (4). In other words, some of us are drawn towards fright because we also experience excitement that we interpret as pleasurable; this also helps to explain why, although we all get scared, only some of us enjoy it.
I personally identify with the pairing of fear and excitement. I’d even add that fear can also be a powerful source of motivation; it’s just a matter of pointing that motivation in the right direction. Four years ago, the idea of moving across the country and starting a graduate degree and a new life away from everything I knew was absolutely petrifying, but it was also exciting. I used that feeling of terror in the pit of my stomach to push me towards my goals and, although it’s definitely not been easy, it was the right choice.
My grad school life, like many others, is full of situations that scare me. Whether it’s starting a new experiment with my hypothesis on the line, or taking on the mentorship of an eager, impressionable undergraduate, the excitement of what could happen is always accompanied by a vein of fear. So while I sit here surrounded by glowing jack-o-lanterns and with a classic horror movie playing in the background, I’m reminding myself to embrace my fears, and to use them to make the most of opportunities as they come along.
After all, grad school is terrifying. But maybe that’s why I’m here.
1Christian Jarrett (2011). The lure of horror. The Psychologist. 24:812-815
2Zillmann et al. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3): 586-594.
3 Rudder, Christian (2014). Dataclysm: who we are when we think no one’s looking. New York, New York: Crown Publishers.
4Hoffner and Levine (2005). Enjoyment of Mediated Fright and Violence: A Meta-Analysis. Media Psychology, 7: 207-237