As the human embodiment of stress and anxiety, my heart rate is usually pretty high. I’m also a wimp who is scared of pretty much everything. So, what happens when I watch a horror movie during spooky season? Let’s find out!
My normal heart rate is a little less than 100 beats per minute, and honestly, there wasn’t a huge change in my heart rate as I was watching “It Follows,” which is about a sexually transmitted curse that takes the form of shapeshifting supernatural creature. The largest spike in my heart rate during the day was a little after 7:15, which is when I was running up three flights of stairs to grab multiple maple creme and red velvet Oreos.
The movie started around 7:45 and ended around 9:30 p.m., and during this time my heart rate stayed fairly steady at around 90 beats per minute. According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal resting heart rate is anywhere between 60 to 100 beats per minute. As I was watching “It Follows,” even with the creepy supernatural ghost It thing, my heart rate was more consistent than during the day. I started watching an Apple Watch to track my heart rate in the afternoon, and from 6 to 7 p.m. my heart rate ranged from 76 to 99 beats per minute.
Since there were some shocking and scary moments in “It Follows,” I expected my heart rate to go up while watching the movie, thanks to the fight-or-flight response. When you’re afraid, your sympathetic nervous system activates. This triggers a release of adrenaline and norepinephrine, which elevates blood pressure and heart rate. With an increased heart rate, your body has a greater oxygen supply to utilize in times of stress.
These changes take place primarily in the brain. The amygdala, a structure in the temporal lobe, plays a large role in your body’s fear response. An overwhelming emotional response to a threat is known as the “amygdala hijack.” When you’re stressed, the amygdala communicates with the hypothalamus, a structure in the brain that releases hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine.
If watching horror movies activates the fight-or-flight response, then why do some people enjoy it? After the fight-or-flight response, your body releases dopamine as part of the “rest-and-digest” reaction. Dopamine is released when we feel pleasure, and watching a horror movie can feel like an achievement. Enduring through terrifying plots may make us more resilient in the future.
I actually enjoyed watching “It Follows,” so does this mean I’m not as scared of horror movies as I thought? I guess I’ll have to watch more scary movies (and eat more Oreos) to be sure.
Thumbnail courtesy TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay.