Mayo Clinic Minute: Why do scary movies make your heart race?


Do you get spooked watching a horror film? Some people love the thrill of terror during a scary movie. Your heart pounds harder and your eyes widen. And even though movie monsters aren’t real, fear can cause a physical reaction in your body.

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Scary movies. The dread, fear and horror that makes your pulse quicken and palms sweat.

“What happens to the human body when you watch a scary movie … comes from the known fight or flight response. … When we are being chased by an animal, our instinct is to either fight the animal or flight, which means to run away,” says Dr. Regis Fernandes, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. “So, probably, that same mechanism gets triggered when we get scared by watching situations on the screen that are similar to that situation in real life.”

Dr. Fernandes says three things happen: Your heart rate increases, blood flow to muscles increases and adrenaline flows.

“It’s similar to exercise,” he says.

Dr. Fernandes does not suggest replacing exercise with watching scary movies, but he says that the body’s reaction to being frightened is unlikely to hurt healthy individuals.

“If you enjoy that thrill, it’s not dangerous,” Dr. Fernandes says.

And it seems many of us just love the feeling of being terrified.

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