• By Vivien Williams

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

October 26, 2018

Flip on the TV, and you're bound to find shows of horror, mystery and the macabre. Many people love the thrill of terror as suspense builds during a scary movie. These flicks can make your heart pound harder and eyes widen. The question is: Why does your body react when you know that what you're watching is not real? Dr. Regis Fernandes, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, has some answers.

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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," Dr. Fernandes says. "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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