What Happens to Your Body When You Watch a Scary Movie?

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Clowns, zombies and ghosts – oh my! October is upon us which means movie theaters and living rooms are echoing with the sounds of scary movies. Whether you’re watching Nightmare on Elm Street or Carrie, your body has distinctive physiological reactions to the sights and sounds of these films.

While many people enjoy having their hearts race or clutching the seat in suspense, they find themselves scared long after the movie ends. That’s because the brain is wired to treat what it sees as real. It is very difficult to tell the primitive brain to ignore the reality of what it is seeing. Specifically, if the images appear to be real and terrifying, the brain tells the body to react accordingly.

Here’s how your brain and body react when you push play:

Your Brain: Horror movies can trigger a reaction in those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In rare instances, watching these films can also cause PTSD. Since the brain cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, memories that relate to a situation shown in a movie that contain elements of a previously traumatic situation can trigger a response. Anxiety can also be an effect of watching scary movies, especially when children are exposed to them at a young age. Physical reactions to terrifying images can include sweaty palms, tense muscles, a drop in skin temperature, a spike in blood pressure and an increased heart rate.

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