Why do we like fireworks so much?

3:57 PM, Jul 4, 2011   |    comments
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PORTLAND, OR (NBC) -- Does your neighborhood sound like a war zone? No doubt it will this weekend --- each year Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on pyrotechnics for the 4th of July.

What is it about fireworks that fascinates us so much?

The fireworks show from Fort Vancouver last year sent one spectacular blast after another across the night sky.

It was part of the $952 million spent on fireworks nationwide in 2010. So whether its huge displays or neighborhood fun, we're shelling out big time even in a rough economy. Why? What is it about all this that compels so many to play along?

"They're loud," said Natalie Hinkle, who likes fireworks. "They're cool, I like them. Fireworks rule."

On the streets of Portland, we found many answers to the question.

"I'd say the color and when they put it to the music and it's like all one big show together, and then all the new stuff the fireworks that make the shapes and fireworks that can all explode at once," said James Wykowski.

Nearly all the men I asked like the explosions.

"I just like the loud noises and the big explosions," said Brian Knudson. "The louder the better and the brighter the better."

"I like lighting them personally, right?" said Michael Goetz. "That's one of my favorites. Like watching stuff blow up."

But several women said they like that part too.

"I do actually!" said Siobhan O'Malley, who also likes the fireworks. "It's really fun and I love just seeing the big boom then the best part is hearing the crowd go, ...ohhh, awwww... and all that goes with it. I absolutely love it."

"I love the boom and I love the colors and all the oos and aahhs," said Gina Knudson. "And doing it with friends and family is the best."

"I like that boom," said Stephanie Mulligan. "I like that boom reverberating in my bones. It just takes me back to my childhood and its great."

So some of the attraction is sensory. But there is also a basic instinct at work that warns us we might be in trouble.

"I like the sound," said Brandon Dean. "I like walking down the street and just getting scared because there is something loud behind me and I'm lookin' around like..."

Psychologist Tony Farrenkopf says that experience is something most feel watching fireworks.

"We orient toward okay, what is that movement -- what is that event out there -- do I need to get into fight or flight mode? Is it a threat or not," Farrenkopf said. "So, and if you're talking about fireworks, I mean that's the most dramatic kind of change or event in our perception."

It not something you forget.

"Some of my favorite memories are sitting out by the waterfront with the rest of my family, seeing the fireworks off the barges go off," said Kevin O'Malley. "Absolutely."

The psychologist says it's an incredible experience for any child.

"Not surprised at all because that's when we first exposed to this kind of event that is very dramatic and very beautiful," Farenkopf said.

So whether it's the colors, the sound, the smell or the memories, fireworks play a powerful role in our lives -- and they roll around every year to help keep the feelings alive.

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