You'll probably never happen across a person raving about a survival horror game by saying how hyperactive their amygdala was, and how their rostral anterior cingulate cortex was powerless to dampen the emotional stimuli.
Nevertheless, modern science tells us that's precisely what's going on inside our domes when we see or experience something scary. And as we've seen over the past two decades, game designers can use these phenomena to wrap us around their little finger.
The key to the horror experience is that our brains -- amazing though they may be – can often only barely tell the difference between media and reality.
"The physiological reaction to frightening stimuli is pretty much the same whether it's real or [in the media]," says Dr Andrew Weaver. He's an assistant professor at Indiana University whose research focuses on the psychology of media consumption.
"As audience members we're pretty good at engaging in suspension of disbelief. At some level we can choose to essentially forget that what we're watching or playing isn't real so that we can become fully transported into the story.
"If we do become immersed in a story, then the empathetic bonds we create with the characters will cause us to feel the fear they experience - much the same way we would in real life."
Television, movies and videogames are relatively new inventions. From an evolutionary perspective, our ape-like brains haven't gotten used to seeing things on screens yet. This is true for all forms of media, but are games better at manipulating the mind than other mediums? Is the controller enhancing or inhibiting our ability to be frightened?
"Having control over the situation mitigates some of the fear, because you can usually win or turn off the game," says Dr Jamie Madigan, psychologist and author of the Psychology of Video Games blog.
"But a lot of times fear is born out of empathy for other characters, and making choices about how you interact with other characters has been shown to increase empathy."
Richard Rouse III, lead designer on the 2004 Xbox horror game The Suffering, says other forms of media have specific strengths over games - but that games have strengths of their own.
"The kind of creeping dread you feel in a good Lovecraft story is different than the startling scares and disturbing imagery of film horror like Psycho or Ringu, just as the more tense horror you experience playing Silent Hill or Left 4 Dead is unique to games," he observes.
"I think games have the definite advantage in terms of immersion and raw tension, because in a well done narrative game the player starts feeling like it's them in the world and starts feeling threatened themselves. Other mediums simply can't deliver that type of horror in the same way."
Much has been made about the psychological implications of the avatar becoming an extension of the player's "self", and this issue is particularly relevant to the survival horror genre. Game designers seem to be particularly skilled at instilling fear in the player, more than they are at generating emotions like joy and sadness.
"It's not that games can't explore those emotions at all," says Rouse, "it's just that game-delivered emotion is fundamentally different than what film or literature can provide. Designers need to recognise that difference and play to the strengths of their medium. So too with fear."
But this doesn't answer the question of why the horror genre exists in the first place. Why do so many of us seek out experiences that will scare the hell out of us?
It is strongly believed that animals (humans included) developed the ability to experience fear as a survival mechanism. This doesn't quite explain why some people are terrified of clowns, but it's a pretty good explanation for why many people try to avoid heights, snakes and Pyramid Head.
However, some of us actively engage our fears. Some people afraid of heights ride roller coasters, some orphidiophobes watch Snakes on a Plane and many gamers afraid of Pyramid Head will still play Silent Hill 2.
"Fear in and of itself is not an enjoyable emotion," says Weaver. "In fact, from an evolutionary perspective we're strongly motivated to avoid the stimuli that cause fear, because those stimuli are generally dangerous.
"That said, there are a few reasons people might actively seek out frightening games or movies."
One of the reasons Weaver proposes is that people use those experiences as a way to gain a sense of control over stressful times in their own lives. He notes that research has shown horror to become most popular during periods of widespread stress such as violent crime waves, high unemployment or when national security is threatened.
A large part of the audience for horror media is adolescent males, and Weaver suggests that gender roles could play a part in this. He says that young males feel a need to watch or play horror games and films. The idea is that they are proving their manhood to others and themselves by showing they aren't troubled by experiencing these scenarios.
"Even though males experience the same physiological reactions and aversive feelings that females do, males feel a disproportionate need to consume this content and, when they do, to not look away or act in any way that would signal that they were uncomfortable with it," Weaver says.
Madigan, who also writes about psychology for US magazine GamePro, says it could be a question of taste. "Psychologists think some people are just sensation seekers who like to be emotionally aroused.
"Similarly, other people seem to be attracted not to being scared, but to the chance to see social norms violated in ways that they'll never encounter in real life. They don't necessarily want to repeat these acts themselves, but they find it exciting to experience it vicariously through others."
However, these effects aren't necessarily permanent. Our brains grow with us as we age and horror junkies are constantly teaching their brains to differentiate between real and media, building mental defences in the process. According to Madigan, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"There's a school of thought that people are attracted to scary situations because they help them prepare mental strategies for dealing with real-life situations that may be not quite the same but which still deal with the same anxieties," he says.
"It seems to be human nature to seek out these "practice runs" through fiction, play fighting and other safe venues. Our brains may be wired to simultaneously know that what we're perceiving is fictional, but to still get an emotional punch out of it because it's ultimately beneficial to our mental well being."
Even if we're not consciously aware of the causes, the elements that allow game developers to instill fear in players have yielded incredible results, from the earliest survival horrors like Resident Evil to modern evolutions like Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
It seems likely designers will continue to learn from their predecessors to create even greater horror experiences. Whether it's merely an adolescent proving ground or a form of terrifying catharsis, horror has earned its place within gaming.