Fear protects living creatures by increasing their vigilance and preparedness and by coordinating survival responses during experiences that exhibit life-threatening encounters. Thus, the complexity and dynamic interaction of fear is something that carries variables of emotional intensity. For some, they crave these emotions that prepare them for action and others are more motivated to avoid any heightened threats. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how acute fear is responded to when encountering it from safer proximity, like your living room.
A team of researchers at the University of Turku in Finland have been investigating the human response to watching horror movies by mapping the neural activity of participants to better understand how fear manipulates brain activity. The study entitled, “Dissociable neural systems for unconditioned and sustained fear,” used magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) technology to analyze the brain while test subjects watched two feature-length horror films.
What was the result?
First, researchers were required to delve into the exciting world of cinema and buy horror movies online to create their comprehensive study movie list. A genre collection of top movies of the past 100 years was created, alongside the help of IMDB ratings and the reviews of over 200 film enthusiasts, and two films, “Insidious” and “The Conjuring 2” were selected to be used in the study.
Participants were required to watch both films using special goggles while sitting inside an MRI machine. They were also asked to rate their fear and catalog the jump scares within the films.
According to a University of Turku press release, “people found horror that was psychological in nature and based on real events the scariest, and were far more scared by things that were unseen or implied than what they could actually see.” Also, 72% of the participants report having watched at least one horror movie in the past six months, primarily out of excitement, but also as an excuse to socialize by indulging with friends or family.
The MRIs revealed that the brain reacts differently to the form of fear it was experiencing. For example, there was a state of “preparatory sustained awareness”, which is the impending feeling of dread, and “acute fight-or-flight responses”, which is commonly used to reference jump scares.
The study found that our brains are continuously anticipating and preparing us for action in response to a threat, and when you buy horror movies online, you’re exploiting this autonomic response to enhance your brain’s excitement.
Did you find anything interesting about the above horror movie study? Contribute to the conversation by dropping a comment below.