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  • Writer's pictureEmma Coyle

Why We Like Getting Scared

Are scary movies your kind of thing?

Perhaps you can’t think of anything worse. Or perhaps like so many, you secretly enjoy the thrill of ‘being scared’ although you can’t put your finger on exactly why.

Each of us responds to trauma, stress or challenges in different ways. You have probably already heard of the ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ responses.

Certain activities are known to reduce the drives for ‘Fight or Flight.’ These include:

- Meditation

- Sex

- Intense Physical or Mental Exertion

However, the drive for ‘Fight or Flight’ is also reduced during a ‘Voluntary Arousing Negative Experience,’ otherwise known as a ‘VANE.’

VANEs are the kinds of thing such as watching a scary movie, going on a rollercoaster ride or even jumping out of a plane. In other words, activities or experiences we have willingly chosen to subject ourselves to, even though they may be frightening.

So what is it exactly that draws us to this type of experience?

Perhaps it is because it feels empowering…we know we can ‘stop the feeling’ whenever WE choose to (well, except once we have jumped off that plane or climbed onto the rollercoaster!). WE are in control….

There are also many positive benefits to be gained from participating in such an experience.


Often the reward will be felt as it happens or straight afterwards with an almost instant boost to both mood and energy. The individual will feel pleased that they have conquered their fears and taken themselves out of their comfort zone, leading to real feelings of positivity and achievement. In fact we know that the more stressed, bored or tired an individual was before the experience, the more positive the outcome of the experience will be felt in the aftermath.

Management of Stress Levels

We also know that exposure to VANEs can really help people to learn how to better handle their stress levels. Essentially the brain temporarily ‘shuts down,’ reducing the panic or ‘overthinking’ that might otherwise cause us to ‘freeze’ in certain situations. Not only does this help ‘in the moment,’ but there is cause to believe that it can help to positively shape the way we respond to other high arousal situations in future by modelling how to handle our adverse emotions more effectively.

Interaction with Others

The other point about VANEs is they are often activities undertaken with others – so actually quite a sociable experience. This sense of sharing helps to bring loved ones closer together and turns a ‘scary’ experience into a fun experience that we can look back on positively with others who have shared in the experience.

Endurance and Resilience

VANE exposure also provides the opportunity to learn more about endurance and building up resilience to frightening situations. In much the same way that competitive sports can push people to exceed their physical and mental boundaries, VANEs can take people ‘out of themselves’and help them learn how to handle their negative emotions more effectively.

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