How do you know how to think

Fear and horror: where does it come from when you're home alone?

The night is cold and damp. The wind howls around the building, heavy raindrops drum on the windows. It's warm and dry inside. Flickering candlelight fills the room with soft light. The television shows colorful, fast pictures while the news anchor softly delivers the headlines. You sip your wine, your eyes are on the screen. Suddenly your head flips around. You saw movement out of the corner of your eye. But there is nobody there. And how? After all, you're alone.

It is a phenomenon that must have happened to each of us. But why is this happening? Is there someone there after all? Or is our brain playing a nasty trick on us? Parapsychology, the scientific research of the paranormal or supernatural, seeks the answers to these questions and tries to answer them on a psychological and neurological basis.

Exploring the paranormal

"Parapsychologists typically study three areas," explains Dr. Ciaran O'Keeffe, Head of Psychology at Buckinghamshire New University in England. He specializes in parapsychology and forensic and investigative psychology.

"The first subject is called extrasensory perception. This is an umbrella term that deals with skills such as telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance. Second, psychokinesis. This examines the influence that the human mind can have on an object: a spoon bends without being touched. The third subject is communication with the dead, poltergeists and haunted people. "

Ghosts arise first and foremost in one's own imagination

Parapsychology can also explain why you saw this inexplicable movement out of the corner of your eye. Although there are perhaps several explanations for this, the neuroscientific one is arguably the least uncanny: Our peripheral field of vision is formed by so-called rod cells, which have a much lower resolution than the cone cells in our central field of vision.

A sudden movement

"If we think that we have seen a movement out of the corner of our eye, then it usually consists of an indefinable form in black or white. Our rod cells cannot perceive any colors," explains O'Keeffe. "If there is an interpretation of the appearance, our brain tries to 'fill in the gaps'. This is called visual substitution. In the end, the brain tries to find a rational explanation for something we have seen or not seen. And this one 'rational' explanation can also be a spirit ".

Whatever the reason, that brief moment when you thought someone was in the room was enough to put your body on alert. You breathe heavily, your heart is racing and the wine in your glass vibrates in time with your trembling hand. While some people hate this type of experience, others like the feeling of creep.

Why some like to shudder and others don't

This is due to various neurotransmitters in our brain that are responsible for our fundamental flight or fight response. These neurotransmitters also include dopamine. It plays a big role in various emotions, such as excitement and joy. It also controls the reward system in our brain, which explains why some people like to be scared.

"The dopamine release in the brain is different for everyone, and that's why some people love spooky adventures and others feel completely terrorized," says O'Keeffe. "There is also a very complex psychological factor that is linked to early negative experiences with haunted houses and horror films."

Creepy or morbid and romantic? An abandoned haunted house near Chernobyl

Haunted houses make us shudder

Dark and abandoned buildings have been used for decades to add the scary factor to horror films and crime thrillers. On the one hand they fascinate us, on the other hand they make us shudder.

This has an evolutionary background, say many psychologists. Because it makes perfect sense to avoid situations and places that could put us in danger or weaken us. After all, someone could be lurking in the dark hallway and the almost noiseless creaking of the floorboards and the slight flutter of the curtain could indicate another living being. Our body reacts with increased excitement and alertness so that we can flee or fight for the essential moment.

And because people have creative thoughts, they don't just expect everyday creatures, says O'Keeffe: "I think that has something to do with our imagination. In this dark, deserted place the most horrific place could be Demon waiting for us to attack us in the next moment. At least our imagination lets us believe it. "

The feeling of a presence

Our imagination also plays a big role when it comes to feeling a presence. Again, there can be a variety of explanations, but psychological and environmental factors are most likely the primary causes.

"The power of intimation is enough to make someone feel a presence. For example, you can tell someone that a building is haunted. Any natural occurrence is then misinterpreted and explained with something supernatural," says O'Keeffe. "A hint along with the imagination and belief in ghosts is a powerful combination to make someone feel a presence even when nothing is actually there."

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Horror films strengthen the immune system

    Horror films have a positive impact on our health. This is shown by an experiment: researchers let one experimental group sit quietly in the room - the other watched horror films. The result: the subjects who had seen the horror film had a higher percentage of white blood cells after the film. These are central to the human immune system.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Lifting a film marathon instead of weights?

    Anyone who watches horror films also burns calories! At least that's what a study carried out by scientists from the University of Westminster says. The best personal trainer is "The Shining" with 184 calories. "The great white shark" still has 161 calories despite the outdated technology.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Training for emergencies

    But why do we actually watch horror films? One thesis: From an evolutionary point of view, they prepare us for life-threatening situations. "We develop cognitive behavioral patterns in order to quickly recognize potential dangers and react appropriately," says the fear researcher Mathais Clasen. So maybe you should take a close look at "The Shining" before your next hotel stay.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Biblical fear of the snake

    Virginia researchers asked adults and elementary school students to choose a specific image from a series of eight. The participants found the snake quickest in the tangle of images. They found frogs, caterpillars or flowers much more slowly. For the first time, the researchers examined the improved perception of evolutionary threats in children.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Spider cocktail

    Another experiment tested human perception in relation to scary objects. Although the participants should concentrate on mixing a cocktail, the first thing they noticed was the spider that suddenly appeared next to them. Other distractions such as syringes or houseflies, however, remained a minor matter.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    The real dangers of life

    Fear and revulsion should protect us. However, human evolution has not yet arrived in modern civilization. Our primal fears - spiders, snakes, heights, narrow spaces - have little in common with today's dangers: industrially produced fatty acids, cigarettes, cars, alcohol. Amazingly, these threats are not hung up as decorations on Halloween.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    The strange case of the patient "SM"

    Not everyone is afraid. The patient SM (not in the picture) had damage to the amygdala. This brain region is responsible for recognizing danger, among other things. Horror films, haunted castles or hideous animals had no influence on the patient. Instead of being afraid of a snake, the person examined the animal extensively for three minutes.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Zombie monkey

    Monkeys seem to be scared of zombies, much like us. In a study by Princeton University, macaques were shown both real monkey faces and disfigured ones. The monkeys looked at the real pictures longer. The researchers see this as evidence that monkeys have an instinctive aversion to disease and genetic deformations.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    The smell of fear

    You can actually smell fear! Cinema goers in Vienna were shown both a horror film and a normal film. Then they dabbed their armpits. In the test subjects who saw the horror film, the scent of fear was clearly detectable. The stress hormone cortisol is apparently not responsible for this. So fear fragrances must have a different origin.

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Constant alert

    Horror movies can cause permanent, negative perceptions. In a survey of students, 75 percent said they had permanent disorders after watching horror films. These include, for example, difficulty getting into the water because you saw the film "Jaws", feeling uncomfortable in the presence of clowns, or fear of camping in the forest because of the film "The Blair Witch Project."

  • Exploring Fear - And Why Halloween Is Good For Us!

    Video games are not without effect

    There are also initial studies on horror video games. Australian researchers have found that the intense gaming experience disrupts sleep. The gamblers slept shorter and the sleep was less restful.

    Author: Conor Dillon