With Halloween upon us, TV screens are flooded with scary movie marathons and theaters are inundated with thrill-seekers pursuing the latest frightening film. And then there are those select few people who absolutely despise scary movies. Fortunately, if you’re one of them, we have good news for you: it’s totally normal.
There are a few different factors contributing to why someone might hate the same scary movie that someone else might love. It’s no surprise that one of the reasons stems from childhood experiences and the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls your fight-or-flight response.
“Some people, when they were growing up, for one reason or another, have a more active amygdala. And those people, the amygdala is much more developed than others,” Kelley Hopkins-Alvarez, Licensed Professional Counselor and board-certified coach, told Reader’s Digest. “The origin of why/how the amygdala is more active is usually found in trauma that someone may have experienced, including but not limited to, attachment and bonding deficits from early caregivers, birth trauma, neglect, malnutrition, poverty, substance abuse, etc.” (Find out the 10 silent signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Another reason may be because some people are just “wired” differently. In other words, some people simply have a higher tolerance to anxiety and fear than others. This “wiring” may also coincide with childhood-based experiences. “I once had a client who shared with me that when they were young they used to watch scary movies alongside their mother, and this made them feel safe, and that sometimes they even laughed together at the scary scenes,” says Hopkins-Alvarez. “They definitely had a sense of what was reality and what was fantasy.” These inventions were predicted in books and movies.
Scary movies also trigger increased adrenaline production in the body and an overall boost in brain activity. This sensation can be experienced either positively or negatively, depending upon the person experiencing it. Those experiencing a positive reaction allow themselves to thoroughly enjoy the thrill and increased heart rate. In fact, this increased heart rate can even burn calories. For others, achieving this level of enjoyment is much harder, if not impossible. In fact, the excess adrenaline may trigger anxiety and panic attacks, thus resulting in negative and sometimes traumatizing experiences. (But if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re faced with anxiety or panic, here are 14 calming phrases to repeat to yourself.)
Another theory that may come into play for those with an overactive amygdala is the excitation-transfer theory. Psychology Dictionary defines this as, “Aggressive responses [that] are intensified by arousal from other stimuli not directly related to the original stimulus that started the aggression.”
“For people with that overactive amygdala, they can develop a generalized anxiety that pops up whenever there is an unknown,” says Hopkins-Alvarez. “This can either be directly after watching something like a scary movie [or] hearing a song that triggers them back to an earlier memory…”
Lastly, while it is not true that all of those who experience negativity associated with scary movies are highly sensitive people, most do tend to fall into that category. A highly sensitive person (HSP) has a tendency to be overstimulated by their environment—whether it’s due to bright lights, stress, social situations, etc. This does not exclude scary movies, where a HSP may experience the intensity at an entirely different level than those who are not highly sensitive. (Are you a HSP? Take the self-test.)