Dark tourism—which involves visiting prisons, haunted houses, and sites where horrific crimes were committed, is growing in popularity and in the US alone, there are over 1,200 haunted attractions to visit. The Travel Channel produced a popular show about haunted attractions, which are now a popular way to celebrate Halloween. There are entire businesses centered around haunted homes, where visitors can scream and enjoy the thrill of a lifetime thanks to scary clowns, shaking beds, and buckets of blood strewn across furniture. This macabre interest in horror is shared by millions of people across the world, but the question is, what is it that draws them to these hair-raising sites?
Scaring the Evil Away
The ancient Egyptians sought to keep body snatchers away from the pyramids and their prized possessions by scaring them with a series of impossible mazes, weaving walls, traps, snakes, insects, and other means of keeping treasure sacrosanct. Terror can indeed serve a useful purpose, though today, it is less about keeping material items intact and more about enjoying a cathartic experience. By getting close to “evil” without actually having our lives threatened, we can experience the fun of the thrill, but also the calm that arises when we realize that we are safe from the danger that others have fallen prey to.
Feeling Like Part of History
Dark tourism focuses on war; the towns and cities where great battles took place and countless men, women, and children lost their lives. Many dark tourism fans visit sites where famous battles from World War II, the Suez crisis, or the Vietnam War took place. Other conflicts that have sparked the curiosity of tourists from across the globe are the Balkan conflicts and the Indo-Pakistani war. Today, cities like Berlin—which was the epicenter of the Nazi regime in World War II—provides tourists with a fascinating mix of the new and old. It is also home to a plethora of museums that highlight the horrors of war.
In Search of Sensations
Research carried out by Professor Kenneth Carter of the Oxford College of Emory University in Georgia indicates that people who love getting scared frequently have a sensation-seeking personality. This trait makes people particularly interested in experiences such as watching scary movies, visiting an eerie house, and even driving fast. People with sensation-seeking traits are generally more susceptible to boredom, disinhibited, and thrill-seeking, than members of the general population.
Scary Experiences Put You in a Good Mood
A study published in the journal, Emotion, has found that haunted houses and other scary sites promote a better mood and decreased brain activity in those who visit them voluntarily. The researchers compare the experience to that of the “runner’s high,” where one pushes oneself and one’s sympathetic nervous system (which directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations) is activated. Once you are out of the tense situation (one in which you never really had anything to fear) feel-good endorphins flood your body, leading to a more mindful mood; one in which you can be fully “present” instead of worrying about problems.
There is something undoubtedly thrilling about visiting scary houses, haunted sites, and battle sites. All these places have one thing in common: they are mysterious and compelling all at once. These sites enable us to feel safer and boost our mood, stimulating the happy hormones that make us feel so good.