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Posted on 10/25/2021

The Most Frightful Time of the Year: What’s Behind the Joy of Halloween?

The Most Frightful Time of the Year: What’s Behind the Joy of Halloween?

For many, Halloween is the best time of the year. But, have you ever wondered why exactly it is the best time of year for many? You may think it is because people enjoy decorating their homes with the theme of Halloween in the fall time, which results in many stores incorporating fall and Halloween décor through their shopping aisles to help intrigue guests. Or, you may believe it is because children love to receive enough candy from having sugar rushes for the rest of the year. Although these are true, there are actual psychological findings that show precisely why Halloween is such a beloved holiday; And it comes from the fact that we as human beings enjoy the fear that comes with Halloween time.


The “Id” 

The personality component of the “id” is triggered during Halloween time. In an article written for Psychology Today, Jean Kim discusses that Halloween is a time when the “id” part of the unconscious mind can come out and enjoy the night filled with impulses of fear through activities such as haunted mazes, scary costumes, etc. This is because the primary role of the “id” is to satisfy basic urges, needs, and desires. It is very impulsive and enjoys feeling the thrill of things. Therefore, Halloween is a time in which the “id” can feel the tension and fear that comes with being frightened without actually feeling it is at risk of harm. Since these past two years have consisted mainly of staying home due to the pandemic, it should be expected that this year many people are ready and excited to enjoy the rush of Halloween again by going to popular events such as “Knott’s Scary Farm” or “Halloween Horror Nights.” In these events, you will be able to see what exactly the “id” part of personality enjoys about Halloween as they are filled with scary mazes in which characters come out and scare the large crowds. 


The Adrenaline Rush

What exactly causes the “id” to crave that rush of fear? Joanna Moon’s article in The Cornell Daily Sun explains that we enjoy the adrenaline rush of being frightened. Halloween gives us that experience knowing that our lives aren’t actually in danger; it’s just pretend. While the “id” part of our personality craves the adrenaline, it doesn’t wish to be in a state of actual fear. That is why Halloween is so focused on being “spooky” because it is a way for people to experience fear while knowing they are not actually in danger. Imagine going through the dark woods at night and seeing a scary creature come out from behind a tree that begins to chase you. Comparing that to the rush of going through a haunted maze, it is much more appealing to be able to go through a maze that you know you will come out alive. 


Horror Films and Brain Activation

There are ways in which psychologists can study if areas of our brain show the excitement behind Halloween and its fright and horror. An article written on The Conversation named “Trick or treat? The psychology of fright and Halloween” discusses that our brain activity can depict how exactly we enjoy being frightened while watching scary movies. This study involving an fMRI scan of movie watchers showed high scores in a sensation-seeking measure when activation in areas of the brain associated with arousal and visual processing during scary scenes. The study showed activation was more robust during scary scenes than neutral scenes. This proves that not only are we able to see the pleasure of horror films externally by hearing the gasps and screams during movies, but also internally when studying brain activity and how it is affected during horror films. 


These three different factors are just some of the many ways we can dive deeper into what makes Halloween people’s favorite holiday. Now that state regulations regarding COVID-19 are allowing people to go out and celebrate Halloween this year; it can be assumed that this Halloween will be the best one in over two years for most. We can expect to see larger crowds attending different Halloween activities such as visiting pumpkin patches, purchasing passes for Halloween-themed nights at theme parks, and of course, trick-or-treating on Halloween night. The spookiness and fright of Halloween will only get better this year as individuals are excited to get back to the “new normal.” 


This article was written by Jasmin Behrang, she is a staff intern with The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists and a psychology student.

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