What Does Your Halloween Costume Say About You?

By SCOTT SMITH, Correspondent

Today is Halloween and all of the young ghosts and goblins will be out trick-or-treating this evening. Halloween is a magical time for children to dress up and pretend to be their favorite superhero, book or movie character. It also gives us adult mortals a chance to enjoy the fun and whimsical side of scary subjects like life, death, grisly ghouls and the supernatural. One of the big considerations of Halloween is choosing what type of costume you are going to wear. Little do people know that the choice you make may reveal more about your personality than you realize.

Halloween has always been an enjoyable event that has been growing steadily in popularity for many years. It has gone from somewhat of an obscure, quirky, second-tier children's celebration to a front and center showpiece that people of all ages celebrate. I can remember as a child, it seemed like Halloween preparations took place pretty much on that very day. I recall carving a pumpkin for a porch jack-o-lantern just before leaving for trick-or-treating. Now, there may be a good month or more of planning, preparation and celebrating. As a reflection of its rising popularity, Halloween has now surpassed all other holidays except for Christmas in terms of the amount of money spent on decorations and get-togethers.

Psychologically, there is something very appealing about the opportunity to laugh at scary and mysterious things. It is fun to safely tease them, or mock them, or even become them ever so briefly. It may help us feel like we have some control over concepts or even fears that are usually beyond our normal understanding and experience. There may be no other time but Halloween where you can you pretend to be the grim reaper harvesting souls or a fairy princess granting people their wishes!

Often in contemplating what type of costume a person may want to wear, people are oblivious to the implications their choice has about their own personality. Several recent psychological studies have demonstrated that the category of costume you find appealing can say a lot about you.

Most psychological studies suggest that people generally tend to choose costumes that reflect who they "aren't" normally in day to day life. In other words, people generally choose costumes that help to explore a different or alternative side of their personality. So the type of costume you wear can indicate an area or aspect of your own personality or life that you feel is neglected or less developed. In other words, the "opposite" principle is in play, as many people are acting out or pretending to be something that has qualities and behaviors that are not normally found in their regular life.

Another aspect of costume selection is that certain personality types are drawn to certain categories of costumes. For example, people who choose celebrities for their costumes are often trying to appear "hip" and up-to-date by expressing their knowledge of pop culture, trends and current events. They are also likely to choose a celebrity that represents qualities that they wish they had such as intelligence, wealth, bravery or attractiveness. In these cases, the celebrity choice reflects deeply held desires about how the individual wishes they were but may feel in real life that they are not.

People that prefer scary characters for their costumes such as monsters, zombies and vampires are likely to be demonstrating their fascination and emotional conflict with horror, violence and death. Choosing a frightening costume may represent their fear of those concepts and their sense of fascination with a repressed or "scary" aspect of their own personality. Wearing a scary costume may demonstrate a desire to control or become more familiar with something that seems ominous and threatening to them otherwise.

On the other hand, people that choose lighter costumes of childhood innocence like a fairy princess are often expressing a desire to go back to that stage of life where things seemed much simpler and more innocent. Fairy princesses don't have to deal with heavy issues related to intimacy and sustaining relationships over time. Picking a cartoon character suggests the desire to be whimsical and light in order to get away from responsibilities and burdens of regular life. The desire to return to fantasy aspects of childhood suggests some disillusionment with the adult world and a lack of emotional fulfillment in current circumstances.

When people choose an animal costume it is because they identify heavily with or admire some stereotypic quality or personality trait of that animal. For example, dogs are thought to be loyal while lions are strong leaders, and sharks are silently aggressive. The "opposite" rule does not apply here as people tend to pick animals that they feel are most like them or that has traits that they admire and wish to emulate.

People who choose evil villains for their persona are definitely making a statement. Those who want to portray themselves as a notorious person like a serial killer are attempting to express their own "dark side" without feeling guilty or remorseful. It may also mean that the individual has strong feelings of doubt and insecurity and the aggressive nature of the villain helps to protect them. In much the same way, choosing a superhero suggests admiration for that character and a desire to be empowered, admired and more successful.

There is another interesting psychological aspect to Halloween costumes that research has uncovered. When people dress up in costumes that hide their individual identity a psychological phenomenon known as de-individuation occurs. Essentially, de-individuation refers to feelings of anonymity or a belief that one will not be held accountable for what they do. This can happen in other situations too, such as in large crowds and it may be the basis of some destructive social phenomenon such as looting and rioting. De-individuation is associated with more rambunctious if not antisocial behavior. In a study of children's behavior while dressed in a costume and anonymous, 80 percent of children "stole" extra candy when given the opportunity, whereas only seven percent of children stole when they were known and identified.

This finding is troubling in many ways, but suggests some degree of caution is warranted tonight if you are going out. You may also want to think about what your costume may be saying about you before you leave the house. Also, to be on the safe side try and avoid hitching a ride with anyone who is dressed as a serial killing shark! Happy Halloween!