It’s the oldest trick in the book to watch a scary movie when you want to hold a certain someone tightly. There’s a scientific reason why it works.
“When we’re scared, our brains pump out the feel-good chemical dopamine, the same chemical we release when we’re infatuated with someone,” YouBeauty Co-founder Michael Roizen, M.D. says. “Your heart races and you can become addicted to that feeling—as the euphoric serotonin hormone also shoots up.”
These chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, are also activated when we fall for someone. They give us that euphoric feeling, and are the reason we crave less food and sleep when we’re crazy in love.
Being frightened creates the same sort of exhilarating feeling. Researchers have been able to boost dopamine release in mice by scaring them. (Mean, we know.)
What’s that mean for you when date night rolls around? When you’re tempted to see the latest romantic comedy, go outside of your comfort zone with a thriller.
“If you do some scary activities the main thing it’s going to do is increase your overall arousal level. You are much more likely to be more passionate about anything when your arousal is high than when it’s low,” Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D. says.
So if your relationship is lacking that who-needs-food-when-I-have-love feeling (which is perfectly normal in long-term affairs), getting scared with a slasher film (heck, even a super-intense drama) can boost dopamine, to give you that infatuated feeling again. The arousal from being frightened becomes mixed up with the arousal of sexual attraction. The proof’s in the science.
The technical term is “misattribution of arousal.” In one study, a pretty woman stood at the end of either a “safe” or “scary” bridge. Men walked across one of the bridges and took a survey with the woman. She then gave out her number. Later, the guys crossing the scarier bridge were more likely to call her. The theory goes that the men mistook their anxiety for sexual attraction toward the woman.
So theoretically, your scary movie plan could backfire, and you could fall for the main character in your film instead of your date. (Ah, that’s why you have a thing for Johnny Depp!)
“If you’re watching a scary movie, you’ll attribute most of the arousal to the movie. It’s an easy explanation for why you’re scared out of your wits,” Dr. Markman says. “That said, when the movie is over, the arousal doesn’t disappear right away. You’ll still have some energy in your system. That energy is going to go into what is going on in your life,” he adds. (This means if you’re attracted to your partner, you can get more attracted. If you’re ticked off, that anger may only rise.)
You don’t have to wait for a thriller release to get the effect. Doing anything out-of-the-ordinary can give you a surge of good feelings. Even super good music can literally give us chills (concert, anyone?).