The Modern Psychology of Halloween

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It’s that time of the year again; where witches, ghosts and ghouls roam the streets in search of candy.  No longer just a throw back to the Celtic Festival of Samhain, where the end of the Celtic year was thought to be associated with death, today Halloween means holiday; a time for dressing up, having fun, eating candy and watching scary movies!

And it’s not just for the kids.  There’s something so timelessly magical in the golden colors of fall that’s annually reflected in the glowing flames of our Jack O’Lantern smiles.  Rather than feeling a creepy chill in the air, instead, many of us today associate a sense of warmth and togetherness with the date October 31st.  The past associations with all things evil have today been replaced by the amusing notion of ‘a good scare’ , meaning that it’s time once again to party in ‘Halloweenland’.

The Roots of our Rituals

The commercial exploitation of Halloween didn’t begin until the 20th century for the most part and mass-produced Halloween costumes didn’t make their appearance until the 1950s, when ‘trick-or-treating’ became firmly embedded in the rituals of the holiday.  

The mask-like images associated with Halloween, like the holiday itself, also have their roots in Celtic practices and likewise, their place in the modern psychology of the event. In fact, the ritual of putting on a mask to become someone else outside of ourselves is something that we have truly embraced in western society, not just as a means of entertainment, but as a means of escape.  

Fear as a Release

“The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”
(Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Modern life has never been so easy – or so stressful.  The dichotomy presented by advances in technology is all around us; supposedly developed to make our lives easier, psychological research suggests that they can create a mental prison of inescapable responsibility.  With this in mind, the notion of a faceless boogeyman stalking us has never been more readily embraced by audiences, especially as it may well be linked to these increasingly common feelings of insecurity and disillusionment that many of us feel in the twenty-first century. 

In short, there is no escape from the cell phones, the computers, the pagers and of course the net – in cyberspace ‘everyone can hear you scream!’ Unconsciously, many of us may seek out a psychological release though the adrenalin-infused horror movies we choose to obsess about at this time of year.  Following this release, at the movies end, and as a result of all that adrenalin being pumped through our bodies, we often experience a similarly positive physiological response, where feelings of giddiness, euphoria and later relaxation weave their addictive charm and keep us coming back for more.

The Future

As far as the future of Halloween is concerned, we can be fairly certain that its popularity will continue to grow as more and more cultures embrace its holiday and commercial appeal.  In fact, with more articles than ever being written about it, more stores than ever stocking up on cards, candies and costumes in readiness for it and the television and movie studios all looking to give us the ‘fright of our lives’ on the night, it seems that the ritual of ‘selling our souls’ to the psychological motivators that keep the Halloween wheels turning may just be good for us after all.

Twitter – The Virtual Peephole

 

Peephole

The one thing you can say for certain about Twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression. But, as millions have discovered, it turns out that Twitter has an unexpected depth, coined by the writer Clive Thompson, as “ambient awareness.” A strangely satisfying glimpse into those naked social segments of others, like a virtual peephole; but one where the observer knows he’s being watched and enjoys the attention.

Twitter has dramatically transformed the way in which new ideas are shared and spread. News and information that would traditionally have taken hours, days, or even weeks to go from one location to another can now occur in seconds. Twitter’s power is both an ally to democracy and a mortal enemy to those governments and corporate entities who have created and held onto their power by controlling the information we mere mortals receive.

“Twitter is a virtual peephole, where the observer knows and enjoys being watched.”

Because of the power of the tweet, the spreading of an idea, or of news occurring somewhere in the world can no longer be blocked. During the Iranian elections, for example, the Iranian government attempted to control communication and block any images of what was occurring in Iran from making their way to the general public. But they were never able to control all the information and images that were being seen by the world in “real-time.” Similarly, when an earthquake rocked the country of Haiti, not only were images from the torn country in the aftermath of the quake being tweeted around the world, but commentaries and opinions of what people were seeing were being read, heard, and readily retweeted.

Let’s face it, the psychology of Twitter’s appeal is enough, in itself, for a volume or two, but what’s turned out to be the most interesting aspect of the platform is the way in which it’s been embraced and expanded at such an extraordinary speed, to provide functionality that its creators never dreamed of. It’s not just about what Twitter’s doing to us anymore; it’s about what we’re doing to it!

An extract from ‘Follow Me! Creating A Personal Brand With Twitter’ by Sarah-Jayne Gratton (@grattongirl), John Wiley & Sons 2012. Click here to get your copy now!