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The psychology of haunted house fear

The owner at The Mortuary Haunted House says some people buy a ticket, wait outside, get to the front door and never go in.

NEW ORLEANS — With Halloween a few days away, you've probably seen pictures online of people being scared and screaming in haunted houses.

So, we wondered, why some people love to be frightened out of their wits, while others would never go into a haunted house.

Well, it turns out there is real science behind the whole phenomenon.

After 16 years, they are having record high numbers here at The Mortuary Haunted House.

The owner says some people buy a ticket, wait outside, get to the front door, and never go in.

Others give up midway and have to be helped out. Others come to get over a phobia.

There’s the good blood-curdling scream of a haunted house, and some love it.

“I want to try to be scared. Halloween's my favorite. I got married on Halloween. I love it, always have,” said Brandy Brown, a tourist from Georgia.

Others don’t like it.

“I know spirits can attach to you, so I'm not going to go in there without protection,” said California tourist, Marisela Cerda.

And in New Orleans, some make a living off of the historic culture, and the spirit world.

“We were known as America's most haunted city long before paranormal became as popular as it is today,” said Bloody Mary of the Haunted Museum and Spirit Shop, who was leading a tour.

“Bloody Mary” runs tours and explains the city's cemetery, and voodoo history, as well as the ghostly world.

“See, I'm not scared. I like to communicate with the spirits and learn from each other, but people like to be scared because of the adrenaline, feeling alive, wanting something that's taboo,” she said.

And she is right.

“There is a real psychology behind it, and there is science behind why people like to be scared, and the adrenaline is a part of it,” explained Dr. Michelle Moore, Chief of Psychology at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Adrenaline is the hormone that triggers the body's fight-or-flight response. Airways open. Oxygen overflows to the muscles, heart, and lungs to prepare you for exertion. 

“There are some people that really just crave that type of intense feeling that comes up really strong, and really fast that is exhilarating in a way,” said Dr. Moore.

It's your genetics, your hardwiring. You're getting the rush without the real danger. Others just aren't made that way.

“Being overwhelmed to the point to where you have nightmares, and then you are overwhelmed afterward, then maybe this isn't good to continue to watch this, and expose yourself to things like that during Halloween time,” explained Dr. Moore.

And maybe it isn't good if you have a preexisting physical health condition and shouldn't let your blood pressure and heart rate drastically increase. Dr. Moore warns parents, haunted houses are not for young children.

“It's something that could be really damaging to them from a mental health standpoint because they can't understand the difference between reality and fantasy just yet,” she warned.

Christian Stokes, the owner of The Mortuary swears that employees here have all had "unexplained sightings" and he tells us parapsychologists have come here and done investigations and all have come up positive.

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