Halloween can provide a new outlook on life, says JMU professor

JMU Headlines

by Eric Gorton


HARRISONBURG, Va. — Halloween is often seen as something that can scare people and keep them away, but what if the script were flipped. 

What if, instead of a scary holiday, we viewed Halloween as something positive that, through activities, has the potential to bring great meaning to one's life? 

While holidays surrounding Halloween, such as Dia de los Muertos, are meant to honor the dead, Halloween does not typically have that focus, said Lindsey Harvell-Bowman, who is a professor of communication studies and also teaches in the psychology department at James Madison University. 

Halloween can provide great meaning to our lives in a few ways, said Harvell-Bowman, who runs the Terror Management Lab at JMU. Through the act of dressing up as our favorite characters, whether that be happy or scary, allows us to safely explore different areas of the self and to see how those selves interact in our friend groups and beyond. Through this activity, we can "test drive" certain versions of ourselves.  

“Attending Halloween gatherings, whether in costume or not, can provide more interpersonal meaning and closeness with our relationships, providing warmth and comfort as we go into winter, which brings seasonal affect disorder for many,” Harvell-Bowman said. “Dressing up in a scary costume can provide a way for us to both consciously and unconsciously explore our fears of death.” 


Contact: Eric Gorton, gortonej@jmu.edu, (540)908-1760 

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Published: Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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