Zombies, homicidal clowns, demented demons and killer doctors wander the halls of the Brighton Asylum Haunted House in New Jersey, giving some thrills to the brave and the not-so-brave during the Halloween season. This weekend, TODAY hosts Tamron Hall, Willie Geist, Al Roker and Natalie Morales rushed through its haunted hallways.
Anytime a ghoul leaped out, Hall screamed and jumped. In all of that shrieking, she injured herself.
“I have a deep muscle tear from screaming for 20 minutes,” she said on the show Monday. “It’s a good scream,” Roker said.
Why do people seek out haunted houses and horror movies? What is so alluring about being frightened?
“It is scary, but it’s a safe thrill,” says Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University.
Watching spooky movies or visiting a haunted house is akin to riding a rollercoaster or jumping out of a plane. It’s taking a risk, but a safe one. It also sparks a cascade of responses in the body that give a natural high.
Letting out a yelp is part of the normal response to fear.
“Screams have multiple features. They can be a signal for help; they can be an expression of emotion,” Farley says. “Screaming is one form of expressing fear.”
And screams are expected in a haunted house.
“Screaming is almost like emotional contagion,” he says. “[It’s] what we do in social situations that have scary qualities.”
Hall’s fear and screaming led to muscle damage, but there have been cases of people actually being scared to death. When people experience a scare, the body reacts with a fight-or-flight response, flooding the body with adrenaline. That causes the heart to pump faster, the muscles to tense for action, and the digestion to slow so the body can spring into action. But all that adrenaline can damage organs and has been known to, in rare cases, cause death.
But for the most part, Halloween scares allow us to explore the dark side of humanity in a controlled way.
“We (have) simulated the fearful experience,” says Farley. “But it’s safe.”