Why do we enjoy being scared?

(Image Credit: 'The Scream' Edvard Munch)

‘We scare because we care.’

(advertising slogan for Monsters Inc.)

Monsters Inc is a film in which monsters appear from cupboards at night to frighten children. The serpents, giant slugs, one-eyed green blobs and scuttling monster crabs compete to ‘harvest’ the kids’ terrified screaming and bottle it to power their city.  It’s a pretty horrific concept, when you think about it.  

Yet it was my kids’ favourite film for about 5 years and we’ve seen in approximately 4 million times. 

Why did they love it so?

Well, obviously the monsters were mostly pretty cute and colourful and it was really funny, but I think something else was going on. Not to get too psychological on you, but I think they liked the idea that they were comfy on my lap and could enjoy the ‘mild peril’ from a place of safety.  It was a bit scary but they could manage it. 

And of course the cure for fear is laughter – J K Rowling makes that very clear in her spell to transform terror – she has the Hogwarts students imagine what they’re afraid of and turn it into humour with the incantation ‘Riddikulus!’  It’s a potent lesson. 

Back when I was just starting my wallpaper designing,

I asked my boys what they would like. 

Perhaps they were just a little bit influenced by me when they assured me beautiful colours were important.  They were definitely being themselves when they said ‘something funny’.  But they surprised me when they got enthusiastic about ‘scarey wallpaper’.

Here's our 'Animal Magic' family pet skeleton wallpaper they inspired me to design:

'Animal Magic' grey wallpaper

Perhaps I should’ve known, really. 

After all, children’s stories from Jack and the Beanstalk to The Gruffalo are filled with peril, dangers to be overcome and heroic acts to perform.  But somehow in the 21st century we’ve forgotten that kids love a challenge.  They especially love to imagine themselves as the hero: dragon-slayer, giant-killer, puzzle master.  

From the cute and benign to the frankly unmentionable, $91 billion dollars was made from the video game industry last year, and I challenge anyone to find a game – from cute and benign to frankly unmentionable – that isn’t based on one of these three childish fantasies. 

Children, it turns out, like to be scared just a little bit. 

(Remember hiding behind the sofa when Dr Who was on?)  

As they grow, the scare-challenge often gets more hard core. My boys were forever planning for the zombie apocalypse … with great relish at the very real prospect of it happening. Apparently I had to be prepared to shoot them in the head if they had been zombie-fied and were coming at me. 

Is it because we enjoy the rush of adrenalin we get from being scared?

Or the feeling of relief that we’ve survived? 

In our house we had a favourite game:  one of us would hide & then jump out at an unsuspecting victim. I would always be helpless with laughter if I could make a 6 year old Rory or Archie actually yelp with surprise. Bloody brilliant game. Still fun now. Though now the boys are getting much better at it then me and I’m worried they might actually give me a heart attack…

Here's another rather scary design we love - Barbara Hulanicki ‘Skull’ wallpaper for Graham & Brown:

Barbara Hulanicki ‘Skull’ wallpaper for Graham & Brown

Victoria x

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