The science behind the spooky – and what keeps us coming back for more

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Halloween is a celebration of all things spooky, but some of us enjoy being scared more than others. There’s actually a scientific explanation for the thrill of the paranormal.

Glenn Sparks, Professor at the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue, discussed obsession with the unexplainable phenomena that are celebrated on this holiday. 

“Science thrives on trying to discover things that we don’t know, and people are fascinated with the unknown,” he explains.

So, people are intrigued by the paranormal for the same reason they’re intrigued by things like archaeology and physics – these all use observations to piece together an understanding of worlds we can’t always directly see.

Early on in cinematography, though, paranormal themes weren’t terribly prominent. So what startled the industry into producing so many of these movies and shows?

“Back in the 80s, there was a writers’ strike, and Hollywood discovered that they could put a microphone in front of somebody and get them to narrate a paranormal story, and people watched it,” says Sparks. 

Captivating someone’s attention is not necessarily as simple as showing a scary house on a tv screen though. It’s the blurring of the line between the paranormal and real life that keeps people coming back for more.

“When paranormal things are depicted in the media as if they could occur, in a very realistic fashion, people end up believing more in the actual reality of those things,” Sparks adds.

Then, the obsession is reinforced by expert figures, whose authority strengthens pre-existing beliefs.

“If you have a UFO depiction let’s say, and there’s a scientist who says ‘well you know what, UFOs could actually happen, they could occur, and maybe we have been visited by the aliens,’ people are much more likely then after they see a program like that to endorse belief in spaceships from other planets,” Sparks says.

So, if you enjoy delving into the unknown, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself watching a program about the paranormal, which is actually a pretty normal activity.

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