Why do we like to be scared? Some of us do, anyway! Let’s take a look at the science of fear, define ‘what is fear,’ and see why some of us like to be scared!
WHAT IS FEAR?
This led me to the question: Why do we like to be scared?
Is fear sweaty palms, clenched teeth, dilated pupils, or an increased heart rate? Is it a high-pitched scream?
Those are reactions to fear, not fear itself.
Let’s begin with an exploration of fear. So, what is fear?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE'RE SCARED?
No, not the sweaty palms part. The why we have sweaty palms –aka science behind fear part.
Fear evolved as a stress response. Also known as fight or flight.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE STRESS RESPONSE AKA FIGHT OR FLIGHT
SPEEDY QUICK RECAP OF THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
THE SCIENCE OF FEAR IS EFFICIENT!
WHY DO WE LIKE TO BE SCARED? (excluding Louie)
Fortunately, in today’s world, real danger is not nearly the same as it was a millennia ago.
That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our ability to trigger the fight or flight response.
Our fight or flight response can now be activated from psychological or mental stress. (If you have too much stress in your life, here are a few tips to calm yourself.)
So why do we like to be scared?
I’m referring to voluntarily engaging in fearful activities. The recreational-fear phenomenon.
This includes a range of activities, from a toddler playfully being chased by a parent, to reading a scary book, watching horror films, extreme sports, or voluntarily going to a haunted house.
You’re now saying to yourself, of course, fear and enjoyment can co-exist because otherwise, Stephen King would still be working in a laundromat.
But why? Why can fear and enjoyment co-exist?
We need to look deeper at the science of fear.
COGNITIVE PROCESSING AND FRIGHT OR HOW WE PERCEIVE THE FEAR
Okay so now we know the answer to the question ‘what is fear’ and all about the science of fear. And we can understand why some of us like to be scared.
Everyone is born with different personalities and temperaments and has had different life experiences. All these factors contribute to our perception of fear. My sister likes nothing better than watching a horror movie & my husband is a Stephen King fan. I couldn’t finish It but I do love milder horror books.
HORROR BOOKS FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL
Speaking of books! Let’s talk horror books for middle school.
This is in line with the theory that fiction provides vicarious experiences through which people can safely simulate a wide range of encounters that may help them prepare to deal with incidents that could arise later in life.
Kids included!! Studies show how exposure to frightening fiction allows school-age kids to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.
SCARY BOOKS FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
The distance a scary book affords gives kids (and adults) an avenue to grapple with complexity & use their imagination to consider different ways of managing social challenges.
What a great way to discuss complex concepts w/ your kids or grandkids! Read them a scary book. It’s safer than leaving them in the woods overnight.
I wanted to include five horror books for middle school…and for their parents, in my science of fear post!
THE NEST by JOHN KLASSSEN
For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered.
All he has to do is say “Yes.” But “yes” is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back?
While the other world and antagonist in The Nest are strange, they are also relatively simple and straightforward. Steve’s parents are without question on his side, just preoccupied.
I would recommend this horror book for middle schoolers to adults and teens. The spookiness builds slowly, but it remains straightforward. This would be a great one to discuss strategies about how to say no!
SMALL SPACES by KATHERINE ARDEN (bonus: this is a series!)
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think—she just acts, stealing the book and running away.
As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.
Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about.
Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
Fight or flight, anyone?
My one-word message is: READ THIS BOOK. (Hm, that’s three words)
THE NIGHT GARDENER by JONATHAN AUXIER
Storytelling and the secret desires of the heart wind together in this atmospheric novel that doubles as a ghost tale. Irish immigrants to England, Molly and Kip make their way to the Windsor house in search of employment.
The great house stands in the shadow of a menacing tree, which locals speak of only in fearful whispers. Despite her young age and the warnings of a local storyteller, Molly uses the power of her own words to secure work, but soon realizes that all is not right in the house.
Constance, Bertrand, Penny, and Alistair Windsor each struggle with personal demons, and strange footprints appear at night. A malevolent spirit, the Night Gardener, haunts the estate, dooming its inhabitants with foul dreams while the tree grants wishes to entrap the recipients. Molly and Kip must face their own dark secrets to release the Gardener’s hold and end his evil enchantments.
Sure there are bad guys and ghosts, but the predictability keeps the scare factor in check. This scary book for middle schoolers reads like a classic fairy tale. Louie loves fairy tales and fantasy. A few more recommendations here.
THIRTEENS by KATE ALICE MARSHALL
Twelve-year-old Eleanor has just moved to Eden Eld to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother was killed in a fire. Her birthday, which falls on Halloween, is just around the corner, and she hopes that this year will be a fresh start at a new life.
But then one morning, an ancient grandfather clock counting down thirteen hours appears outside of her bedroom. And then she spots a large black dog with glowing red eyes prowling the grounds of her school. A book of fairytales she’s never heard of almost willingly drops in front of her, as if asking to be read. Something is wrong in the town of Eden Eld.
Eleanor and her new classmates, Pip and Otto, are the only ones who see these “wrong things,” and they also all happen to share a Halloween birthday. Bonded by these odd similarities, the trio uncovers a centuries-old pact the town has with a mysterious figure known as Mr. January: every thirteen years, three thirteen-year-olds disappear, sacrificed in exchange for the town’s unending good fortune.
This Halloween, Mr. January is back to collect his payment, and Eleanor, Pip, and Otto are to be his next offering…unless they can break the curse before the clock strikes thirteen.
Okay, I admit that I haven’t read this horror book for middle school yet but I want to. It sounds deliciously creepy with a trio of friends, time running out, and a curse. Who doesn’t love a curse?
SPIRIT HUNTERS by ELLEN OH (another series!)
Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely.
The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?
“Even more impressive than the shiver factor is the way the author skillfully uses the compelling premise to present a strong, consistent message of not rejecting what you don’t understand.” — Booklist (starred review)
Aha! In spite of Book List’s use of double negatives, you can utilize this scary book for middle schoolers to enjoy being scared, practice coping strategies w/ your kids or grandkids, & help them to learn life lessons from the safety of the couch.
WHY DO WE LIKE TO BE SCARED?
Now you can answer the question ‘what is fear’ & know all about the science of fear!
Tell me, do you enjoy horror films and books?
I prefer horror books for middle school to horror books for adults.
Do any of these scary books for middle schoolers appeal to you?
Do you like graveyards? You’ll notice my photos are all taken during broad daylight! (Just saying.)