Why Do We Delight in Fright?

Oct. 28, 2015

You know the type. The ones who think being scared is a real scream. On Halloween, they head to the most hellish haunted house in the hamlet. On a balmy Sunday, they cuddle up with "Rosemary’s Baby," see "The Shining" or spend the afternoon with "Night of the Living Dead." Maybe they break out the Ouija board.

But why? Why do some people delight in fright? Do they have bats in their belfry? Or do they just enjoy a good scare sometimes?

University of Arizona psychology professors Daniel Sullivan and Jeff Greenberg have thought a lot about fear and even terror. Meanwhile, Haijiang Cai, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the UA, wants to find out how neural circuits regulate emotional behaviors connected to fear. And then there’s Jerrold Hogle, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English. Hogle is spellbound by Gothic literature and an international authority on the subject.

Whether people seek out fear in movies, books or haunted houses, each of these researchers says it’s human nature to delight in fright — as long as you know you’re safe while doing so. 

The Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium will host its annual Spooktacular Science weekend, with activities from UA student science groups, as well as slippery slime, squid dissections, a brain zoo, chemistry magic, math mayhem, arts and crafts, and Halloween treats and trinkets. Also, there will be showings of the laser light show favorite "Fright Lights." Those attending in costume will receive a 25 percent discount on admission.

Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. "Fright Lights" show times are at 6 and 9 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go to flandrau.org.