Oct. 31, 1999


Halloween is not my favourite holiday. I don't like the images of fright and death, and as a mother, I don't like the idea of begging strangers for candy. I guess that makes me the Halloween-Scrooge or something, but I did allow my children to participate so at least that won't be on their "Oprah List". (As described by a friend, the list her children are preparing for when they go on Oprah's show to trash their parents.)

In honour (?) of the holiday, there was an article in our paper about why people like to be frightened and even scared silly. I couldn't find the article online but I found even better stuff to tie in with a theory I once developed:

The theory sprang from the observation that many of my friends, even women friends who are afraid to open their door without makeup and who drive with both hands on the wheel, lovvvvvvve action movies. And horror movies. And disaster movies. They also love pop music. (No that's not a snide remark, it really does tie in.) Love songs delivered by Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion and their ilk. The common denominator? Emotion. The movies and sappy music evoke powerful emotions. They do the same thing for me but with one big difference.. I find these resulting emotions unpleasant and uncomfortable, even overpowering.

The conclusion I came to was that something in my makeup was different from the norm (norm in this case defined as majority of cases). Many people seek out ersatz emotional stimulation, while I avoid it. To me, I already have enough trouble controlling my own, real emotions. More is too much to handle -- system overload. Does this mean others don't feel as keenly as I do, and need to heighten their senses? I doubt that.. perhaps it's a matter of perception, like eating hot peppers.. they taste the same but some people enjoy the experience while others don't.

While searching for the elusive article, I came across the psychological concept of "sensation seeking" (developed by Professor Marvin Zuckerman of the U. of Delaware) I'd never heard of it but articles have been referenced from as early as 1994.

Sensation Seeking is defined as the tendency to pursue novel & stimulating experiences. Those high in Sensation Seeking have strong positive affective reactions to situations of novelty & risk, are sensitive to internal sensations and choose environments that augment them. Further, it specifically stated that sensation seekers seemed to have a higher optimal level of arousal !!!

Another article explaines that Sensation seeking may include a wide variety of activities such as skydiving, body-contact sports, hiking and camping, visiting a museum, attending a theatrical performance, or playing computer and video games.

The most fascinating part (to me) lies in the brain chemistry explanation for all this: as explained in an article in that well known medical journal, the Detroit News, (well it came up in the search..) it involves the brain level of MAO (monoamine oxidase) and its effect on other brain chemicals. MAO is low in sensation seekers. This is where the light bulb finally clicked: One well-established treatment for depression is to INHIBIT MAO. That is, decrease it. Depression and sensation seeking are at opposite ends of the MAO spectrum! Once again, I'm not weird.. I'm a product of my brain chemicals. For some reason I find that comforting.

I just love it when things fall so neatly into place and especially when it validates my observations!

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