Ever wondered why Americans spend millions each year for Halloween. What is it about the creeps that drives our brains?
The answer to this is as old as our ancestral roots go.
Our primitive brain is programmed to experience fear. How is this important ? Fear drives adaptation…. The ultimate purpose of evolution as we know is the survival of the fittest and propagation of our species. How to we achieve this through fear mechanisms… partly by being on guard and building defense mechanisms. Inorder to do this we need to experience danger either first hand or thro’ people around us. This is important for survival and producing offspring.
Upon encountering a dangerous situation, the fear response center in our brain, the ‘amygdala” first jumps into action, consults with the “hippocampus” where previous experiences are stored and then the “cortex” which ultimately makes the decision to act upon the trigger (flight or fight).
Depending on what the brain concludes about the situation our body reacts to it, what we commonly call as the adrenaline response which is again initiated by the hypothalamus in response to signals from other regions of the brain. This adrenaline activates our sympathetic nervous system. Our muscles get all the attention , and are primed to confront or escape from danger. This is accompanied by increased lung function and heart rate. We focus better, withstand pain,and make quick decisions. At the same time all of these things are ramping up, other body systems are delayed or shut down. All other unnecessary responses are shut down. For ex: Peeing in your pants is one way of eliminating the need for attention to your bladder.
Do all these horrific movies and hauntings just trigger the fear mechanism ??…of course “NO”… comeon who would spend all that $$ for getting afraid. Yes!! there is euphoria attached to these feelings of intense fear. Why ??Because the neurotransmitter dopamine is also activated by intense situations. Dopamine stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, enabling us to anticipate and seek rewards. So, it helps having controlled scary situations that aren’t truly dangerous. Us being in that scary situation and coming unscathed out of it, is a shortcut to get an adrenaline and dopamine “rush”.
We are all neurotransmitter junkies. We have the irrepressible urge to seek out adventures, survive, learn and propagate our genes. Humans who were proficient at hunting, finding or stealing mates from enemies, and were nomadic survived. Those who maintained status quo perished.
It’s the same instinct that drives our needs to break from stable situations and seek adventure. Contemporary psychologists label this personality trait “sensation seeking”. The elite group of sensation seekers love high-intensity music, gory art, drugs, extreme sports, speeding, promiscuity, video games and x-rated movies. Most of us on the moderate side , enjoy these activities occasionally ….
So celebrate Halloween and “SURVIVE”