Why we go crazy for gross stuff on Halloween

(Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)

Halloween is a chance to seek out the spooky, as well as the gross and horrifying. We enjoy the emotional rush—free of any actual danger—from both, says Daniel Kelly.

“…it’s bizarrely hard to look away from the gross stuff, but you can if you need to.”

“If you’re watching horror shows on YouTube, television, or at a movie there is sort of a barrier there,” says Kelly, associate professor of philosophy at Purdue University. “You’re still able to get your emotions tickled; it’s bizarrely hard to look away from the gross stuff, but you can if you need to. You’re not really in any danger; you can turn it off.”

Kelly is the author of the book Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust (MIT Press, 2011). He argues disgust plays a role in our health as it urges us to avoid rotten food, trash, or things that could make us sick.

“Roller coasters and horror movies are probably based on a similar principle,” he says. “You get to have your fear and disgust buttons pushed but you’re not actually in danger. You’re not falling off a cliff. The guy with the axe isn’t actually going to kill you. You’re not actually going to contract the infectious zombifying disease.”

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Kelly says Halloween is fun for all ages because everyone knows it’s just people dressing up. “We might go to a movie to get the vicarious thrill of being stalked by Mike Myers or bitten by a vampire, but it’s really just a movie.”

Kelly says flirting with danger or seeking a rush spills over into many facets of life, even if the emotional voltage has a slightly negative valence. “There are some feelings that are manifestly unpleasant when they come in large doses, but that many people actively seek out and enjoy in smaller, more controlled spurts.

Why do people eat spicy foods when it’s really a chemical burn? The gentle feeling of soreness and muscles burning after a jog or trip to the gym can become enjoyable in a similar way.

“This can happen with the feelings associated with disgust, too—in the popularity of those pimple-popping videos, and in people’s attraction to horror movies, haunted houses, and other Halloween traditions.”

Halloween disgust can give people a good scare without any risk of something bad happening, he says.

Source: Purdue University