Feb 2, 2014

Why do we need stories that ask why do we need scary stories?

The feature article in the 'Life and Style' section of the paper today was this:

Be afraid.... The enduring power of ghost stories.
THE HAUNTING From ancient tales of mythical creatures to the unspeakable crimes of modern cinema, the ghost story holds us in thrall.In this spectral world where sorrow dwells, why are we unable to look away?

I love scary stories and I love anthropology, cultural history and mythology, so hooray, even though I think this topic has been well and truly covered. It's actually a promotion for new Australian film The Darkside, but still, I feel like this is the fifth article I have read in the last couple of years asking "why do people like scary stories?"

Do a Google search for "why do people like scary stories" and most of these articles will come up, along with a good bunch of blogs and forums answering the same question.

I don't actually think it's that mysterious, is it?  Stephen King answered the question in On Writing, and all these articles, blogs and forum posts answer it too.

People like (or are drawn to) scary stories because:

  • they are cathartic, allowing us to feel and release pent-up tension and fear
  • they help us manage our fears of the unknown and death
  • they allow us to rehearse scary situations
  • they provide the adrenaline rush of the 'fight or flight' response which we need to keep us safe
  • this adrenaline rush, as a by-product, provides a thrill which is (kind of) pleasurable
  • or, encapsulating all of these: as Older Single Mum commenting on this post of mine so succinctly said, they "still the mind".

New Scientist, in its recent Night issue, had a great article called The night: Things that go bump... which says the paralysing terror we feel at noises in the night (and during horror stories) is our animalistic fear of predation, of being hunted and eaten.  That gives me a shiver just re-reading it (and reminds me how horribly stressful the life of many animals must be).

So that's pretty well explained, from my point of view.


  1. Who cares why we like them....we just do. Still, it gives those who can't write scary stories something to write about I guess lol.

  2. And I was thinking exactly the same as I said before on your other post before realising I'd actually done it. Really must get out more. It's so strange to see your publish date as Feb 2nd while we're still Feb 1st here. In fact, that's a scary story lol X

  3. I also just realised I'm a hypocrite, criticizing these article writers for rehashing the same topic while I rehashed my previous blog post...

  4. My kids and I loved horror movies years ago and I remember them sitting all huddled together on the couch enjoying getting scared together. I find that as I get older, I still like the TV crime shows such as CSI and Bones with the gory bodies, but for movies I prefer something I can laugh at.



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