The science behind the perfect scare

By Caroline Quinn, Editor-in-Chief

Prying on everyone’s worst nightmare, horror films have been terrifying audiences since the late 19th century. Twisted plots and disturbed characters can have even the bravest viewers clenching their fists and filled with paranoia.

The question is why do people sit down and purposely try to evoke fear. Many believe it’s not because people enjoy fear itself but the relief that follows afterward. According to the excitation transfer theory, the intense emotions one feels while watching a horror film of anxiety, fear and paranoia can bring on equally strong feelings of relief and comfort afterward. It’s not that people enjoy their heart racing or their loss of breath but rather the calm afterward of knowing they escaped the killer or avoided a horrible death.

“It doesn’t make sense, especially since I’m always scared, but I love to watch horror movies,” senior Alexis Lombardo said. “The whole time I’m actually miserable but it is funny afterward when I realize it’s fake.”

“I like knowing when I watch a scary movie that I can turn it off and forget about it,” senior Michael Ruane said. “I’m not actually being put in these awful situations.”

Since the early 2000s, studies have lead to a new field of research, neurocinematics, involved in the filmmaking process. Neurocinematics is the study of how particular scenes affect the audience’s brain. Using MRI technology, researchers can pinpoint the exact emotions the viewers are feeling when they watch a movie. With this innovation, directors and screenwriters have the opportunity to specify exactly what it is that will make their watchers jump, sweat and shake, and what falls short of sparking a reaction.

While watching TV and movies, our brain shuts down its motor regions. A scary movie is able to bypass this shutdown and provoke a response. People will jump or yell in order to warn those around them. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that the plot you’re investing yourself in is in fact fiction.

“I scream and I jump and make a scene,” Junior Emily Holleffer said. “I’m the worst person to watch these movies with I can’t control what will happen when I am scared.”