The 7 Best Ways To Freak People Out
Why We Love To Get Freaked Out
Picture a helpless character in a horror film being stalked by a killer.
Being scared or shocked is an experience that many of us seek out on a regular basis. For some of us, that means sitting in a dark theater for a couple of hours while horror films and thrillers play up on the silver screen. For others, it’s a ride on a roller coaster or a trip to visit the in-laws.
The key component to a good freakout is dopamine, a chemical the brain releases that feels fantastic while it’s flooding through your body. It’s the same chemical that your body releases when it encounters a number of recreational drugs, and like some of those illicit substances, fear can be addicting.
This might seem counterintuitive at first, however. For starters, why would your body release a hormone that relaxes you at a time when you should be ready to fight or flee? And furthermore, why would you become accustomed or addicted to an experience that everything your body has evolved to feel tells you is dangerous? The answers are surprisingly simple.
In addition to making you feel generally groovy, having dopamine in the bloodstream when you’re in a dangerous situation can help keep your fine motor skills from going off a cliff. Picture a helpless character in a horror film being stalked by a killer. He tries to unlock his car to get inside where it’s safe, but he fumbles his keys, drops them to the pavement, and when he stands back up, we see the killer right behind him. The physical effects of dopamine can counter the spikes in cortisol that occur during such a dangerous situation, giving you a little more control over things like a lock and key.
As for why we’d ever want to feel that way, that has to do with the limits of our empathy and the unconscious delineations of our suspension of disbelief. When we see something that freaks us out, it’s rarely something that’s actually happening to us. It’s usually happening to someone on screen, and we can only empathize with those characters so much. We can keep a safe distance.
If the freakout in question is actually happening to us — in a haunted house, for example — then we have an uncanny ability to separate reality from play, allowing ourselves just enough investment in the pretend to feel the dopamine rush without the negative stresses that a release of cortisol would entail.
Know Your Audience
As you peruse our selection of different ways to freak someone out, you’ll notice that there are a lot of extremely varied options on the market. Many of these fall into the realm of the practical joke, while others merely feature design elements that play on human perception to create feelings of unease.
That brings us to one of the most important aspects of the freakout: knowing your audience.
Trypophobia is a great example of a proposed phobia — in particular, the fear of irregular patterns, often patterns of holes — that can freak someone out without necessarily being scary. The problem with employing a trigger for trypophobics is that you might not know for sure whether your intended victim has this fear. That brings us to one of the most important aspects of the freakout: knowing your audience.
When my grandma was a little girl, for example, a boy came to school with a snake, snuck up behind her, and put it in her hair. She held onto a lifelong abhorrence of snakes that was only trumped by her adoration of Lucille Ball, and that woman loved Lucy. If I really wanted to freak her out, all I had to do was put a rubber snake anywhere in the house, at any time, and lie in wait for her to spot it. But my mother took me aside when I was a boy and told me very frankly that if I ever did such a thing, I ran the risk of permanently alienating her, so deep ran the scars of her youth.
Fortunately, I had rubber spiders, fake vomit, and a whole host of other tools at my disposal. You, too, have a litany of available freakouts at your fingertips. Some of you may be tempted to push people past what you perceive to be their limits, but there’s a line between freaking someone out and being outright cruel to them. So, know your audience. Keep it freaky, but within reason, and everyone will be laughing by the end of it.
Ideas For Additional Practical Jokes
Now that we’ve covered the importance of knowing your audience, as well as some of the science behind our love for all things freaky, it might be a good idea for me to share with you a few additional ideas for practical jokes. None of these are too harsh, mind you, but it’s always a good idea to take some of these ideas and try to make them your own.
Just make sure to come clean if it looks like it’s putting the relationship in jeopardy.
We all know that sugary sodas aren’t good for us, but if you live with someone who’s addiction to the beverages poses a real hazard to their health, there are few things more satisfying than poking small holes in the tops of their cans and letting them all go flat. More often than not, they’ll assume that the first can was a rare dud and make to open a second one. Once that fails, you’re allowed to start laughing at them.
Back when Skymall was still in publication, one of the best pranks around was signing people up to receive it in the mail, mainly because nobody ever got that magazine in the mail unless they'd bought something from it on a flight. So, if you have a friend whose spouse thinks they spend too much money on certain items, get a magazine of those very items sent to their home. Just make sure to come clean if it looks like it’s putting the relationship in jeopardy.
Finally, if you really want to freak someone out, take an acting class. Train yourself to convincingly convey extreme emotions at inappropriate times (furious after your team wins a big game, crying like a baby when your friends try to prank you, etc.). Combine any of the products on our list with a good (fake) nervous breakdown, and you’re sure to freak someone out.