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The Science of Scary Escape Rooms: Why Do We Like To Be Scared?

07 Oct 2022

Well, it’s that season once again. The time for horror movies, haunted houses and scary escape rooms. Yes folks, it’s finally spooky season!

While being scared definitely isn’t for everyone, many of us love nothing more than the feeling of being absolutely, completely terrified. But why do we like to be scared? Shouldn’t we avoid fear at all costs?

Let’s explore what makes a scary escape room so popular, and the scientific reasons that help explain why we love to be scared.

Scary Escape Room Benefits: Why Do We Love Them?

If you consider yourself a haunted house lover, horror film aficionado, or horror escape room expert, chances are that you actually enjoy feeling that heart-racing, spine-tingling spark of fear when you stumble into a fictional serial killer’s trap or get to explore a haunted orphanage. Have you ever stopped to wonder why you enjoy these (somewhat disturbing!) experiences? Science has the answer.

Reason 1: Scary escape rooms boost positive hormones

When you’re scared, adrenaline, also known as the “fight or flight” hormone, is released suddenly into your body, helping you get your body ready to fight (or flee!) the threat. Luckily, in scary escape rooms, there’s no real danger — but your body still releases an adrenaline rush!

So what happens in an adrenaline rush, and why is it sometimes a fun experience? First, your body is flooded with adrenaline. This increases your heart rate and your blood pressure, which in turn causes more blood to be pumped into your muscles. Eventually, your brain will realize there’s no real threat, and your parasympathetic nervous system will kick in to bring your heart rate back to normal speeds.

While this may sound like an unpleasant experience (and yes, sometimes it is), the adrenaline rush can also make us feel more physically powerful and emotionally-intelligent. When we’re scared, feel-good endorphins and dopamine are also released, meant to help you in the fight or flight reaction, which results in a rush of positive feelings.

So why do some people like being scared more than others? Scientist David Zald showed that some people have less control over dopamine release, and tend to release more than others — thus enjoying the dopamine kick more than others. According to Zald’s research, these people are actually more likely to enjoy scary experiences than others.

Reason 2: Scary escape rooms help us explore the world

We’re all aware that there are dark things that happen in the world. Frightening experiences like scary stories and horror escape rooms can help us try and understand the darker side of morality. Dr. Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, argues that we’re fascinated by horror because it helps us expose ourselves to things we don’t see every day. Scary escape rooms help us try and make sense of things that don’t make sense, like death-defying ghosts or evil spirits.

In some cases, scary escape rooms and other scary fictional experiences are appealing because they let us get a peek into how the bad guy thinks — and still emerge victorious on the other side. Most importantly, we can do this exploration while knowing it’s very safe. Our brains are very good at understanding that in reality, we’re free from risk — allowing us to sit back, relax, and enjoy a “controlled” suspenseful experience.

Reason 3: Scary escape rooms help us face our fears

Scary escape rooms, and scary experiences in general, can help us face fears and come out the other side feeling stronger. Of course, if something is too scary, we don’t enjoy it and aren’t likely to feel empowered afterwards. But research shows that when the scare-factor is “just right,” scary experiences help us release pent up emotions in a safe environment, leaving us feeling happier afterwards.

We’ve all heard of the idea of exposure therapy, in which people are brought face to face with their fears as a method of overcoming them. Scary escape rooms can work in a similar way by proving to ourselves that we can face down challenges even if we’re scared while doing so.

Reason 4: Scary escape rooms bring us together

Finally, going through scary experiences together can actually make us feel closer. In fact, research has shown that our brains often mistake the biochemicals emitted when we’re scared for the biochemicals associated with pleasure! While the scientific backing for this is somewhat out of date, we’ve all experienced the feeling of closeness, collective relief, and triumph when you get through a scary experience as a team. These feelings of bonding come not only from spending time with people you like, but also from how your brain is reacting to fear.

Ready to Play?

Ready to test out these theories of the science of scary escape rooms and try to understand why you like getting scared? 60out has plenty of scary escape room options for you. Check out our selection of horror escape rooms and book your experience today!


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