‘Weird how fear and fun go hand in hand’: The science behind being scared

November 2, 2022

Halloween is a fun holiday– but of course there is a spooky side– full of frights. Have you ever wondered what exactly happens when we get scared?

Author: Raime Cohen
Published: 6:57 AM EDT October 31, 2022
Updated: 3:09 PM EDT October 31, 2022


JONES COUNTY, Ga. — Halloween is a fun holiday– but of course there is a spooky side– full of frights. 


But have you ever wondered what exactly happens when we get scared?


Dixie Curtis works hard to get that reaction from folks. She plays ‘Helga Youngblood the Head Mistress’ at Highway 11 Halls of Horror in Jones County.


“The different reactions people give. Some people are super scared other are ehh,” Curtis said. 


A man with a chainsaw coming towards you may alarm you. Or it might excite you. 


“It’s kind of weird how fear and fun go hand in hand,” Curtis said.


But have you ever wondered why? 


Tonja Simmons Lee is the executive director for counseling services at Central Georgia Technical College. She says fear happens in our brain. Our senses tell us– something’s not right. 


From there we quickly choose a course of action: fight, flight, or freeze.


“It releases the cortisol, it releases the adrenaline. It says ‘alright troops it’s time for us to get prepared for us to survive,'” Simmons Lee said. 


Getting people to that emotion is something Curtis says she enjoys.


“It gives you the opportunity to be somebody you’re not. Just seeing if you can really get somebody that scare factor out of them,” Curtis said.  


One technique that usually does the trick– a jump scare. When something looming in the dark pops out at us.


Bruce Conn works as a psychotherapist at Piedmont Medical. Conn explains how our mind works when there’s uncertainty.


“If there’s a spirit there and I can’t see it and again it’s in the dark, it’s probably malevolent, probably negative, probably out to get me,” Conn said. 


But it’s not just your mind– your body physically reacts too. Simmons Lee explains what you might experience when you’re spooked.


“The hands are feeling clammy, cold, your pupils dilate because it needs more light to come in so you can see what the perceived threat is. You may also have the heart racing and the heavy breathing. The blood is going to the larger organ because if you need to throw a punch you need to have that strength there,” Simmons Lee said. 


As for the folks haunting you– they’re getting a thrill too.


“Most of that time that fear of what people will say or ‘oh my gosh they’re looking at me.’ Yeah, yeah they are, we want them to. We want them to look at us because that’s what makes it fun because it gives you the opportunity to be and do something you wouldn’t do normally,” Curtis said. 


You’ll find ‘Highway 11 Hall of Horror’ on Monticello Highway in Gray. They’re open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Halloween– but you’ll need tickets. 


If they’re sold out– don’t worry. Curtis says they’re planning a ‘Christmas Haunt.’ That’s happening December 9-11.