RONZONE: Halloween psychology



Raquel Ronzone

Call it the appeal of incognito. Contrary to popular opinion, the tradition of the Halloween costume no longer remains a disguise but a clear declaration of individual identity.

The precursor to Halloween, Samhain, a yearly celebration among the Celts of ancient Ireland and Britain, introduced the concept of disguises.

On Nov. 1, the date marking the end of their summer season, people set bonfires to ward away evil spirits. Sometimes, these villagers wore masks to evade recognition by the phantoms imagined to be near. By the 20th century, however, the event had lost its ghastly connotations, becoming a lucrative form of entertainment and leisure, a popular U.S. holiday favored and kept alive by the young at heart.

Although Halloween has evolved from its pagan roots into a strictly secular, generally innocuous festivity, the original intent of costuming oneself retains its allure and specific purpose for participating individuals.

Twenty-first century culture misleads Halloween enthusiasts by implying that the Celtics’ initial goal of concealing their own identities and rendering themselves completely unfamiliar to others translates to each modern costume donned, whether purchased with meticulous forethought or assembled in worried haste.

In actuality, the participants’ choice of attire for the evening proclaims exactly those fantasies, desires and characteristics – subconscious or openly acknowledged – that the costumed, thrill-seeking many presume hidden.

From a practical perspective, this realization imparts a greater responsibility to celebrants: to convey the single aspect or collective aspects of themselves that they want to convey to the old friends and new acquaintances they encounter on Halloween.

From a social perspective, it reveals much about the traits they possess and wish to showcase, as well as the innermost wants they wish to safely and appropriately disclose during this one night of the year.

Though restricted by time, convenience, comfort and price, costume selections are certainly not random. Sally Foster, a psychology professor at the University of Miracosta, California, maintains that Halloween is an occasion for people to either dress up as someone they love and would want to imitate or, conversely, someone they dislike and would want to mock.

John Suler, a psychology professor at Rutgers University, expounds on this, saying, “One theory states that our personality operates in polarities. There is our conscious self that we present to everyone during our everyday life – but then there is a hidden side to our personality which may be the exact opposite.”

The pair further developed their statements by interpreting a few common categories of Halloween attire. Sexy ensembles express a restrained sexuality – an internal struggle between chastity and carnality. Comic book and cartoon characters reflect playfulness, whimsy and heroism, while evil figures provide guiltless, socially acceptable outlets for the darker sides of one’s personality. Powerful costumes express a fantasy of omnipotence. The “Innocents” – fairies, angels, queens, princesses and the like – represent a yearning for safer and simpler times and for purity.

The psychology of the Halloween costume is doubtlessly open to further analysis by professionals and lay people alike. The overwhelmingly evident truth garnered from these and other expert opinions is that, despite modern thinking to the contrary, the costumes publicize more than they conceal. Those ensembles are another component of a person’s wardrobe – albeit ones free from practicality, dress codes and, more often than not, social criticism.

Understanding the impact of one’s appearance throughout the year but particularly on Halloween – a night during which societal restrictions generally relax, during which people eagerly entertain the unusual, the novel and even the impossible – becomes imperative. As relational beings, humans constantly read and analyze the verbal and nonverbal signals delivered knowingly and unknowingly from our peers. The individual, then, is responsible for properly conveying the message he or she intends to convey. After all, Halloween is one of the year’s greatest opportunities for vivid, boundless self-expression.


Raquel Ronzone is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].