Neural activity in response to watching horror films

A new study shows how the best horror films of the past 100 years have influenced brain neuronal activity. The Finnish research team maps this in response to the manipulation of the images. People are fascinated by what scares us, be it skydiving, roller coasters or documentaries about real crimes.

Neural activity and horror

reaction and neural activity when watching horror films

While all heroes face a threat to their safety or happiness in all films, horror films have a superhuman or supernatural threat that is not easy to explain or fight. The research team at the University of Turku, Finland, investigated why we are attracted to things like entertainment. The researchers first created the 100 best and scariest horror films of the past century and how people felt about them.

First, 72% of people report seeing at least one horror movie every 6 months. The reasons for this, in addition to the feelings of fear, were primarily those of excitement. Watching horror films was also an excuse to socialize. People felt the horror, which was psychological in nature and based on real events, was the most creepy and far more creepy than what they could actually see.

This latter distinction, however, reflects two types of fear that people experience. On the one hand, there is the insidious premonition that arises when you have the feeling that something is wrong. On the other hand, we get the instinctive reaction we have to the sudden appearance of a monster. This makes us jump out of our skin accordingly. This is claimed by the lead investigator, Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from the Turku PET Center.

Different forms of fear

new method to scan the brain and neuronal activity with helmets

Above all, the researchers wanted to know how the brain deals with fear in response to this complicated and constantly changing environment. The group had people watch a horror movie while measuring neuronal activity in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

In times when fear is slowly increasing, regions of the brain that are involved in visual and auditory perception become more active as the need to heed clues to environmental threats is becoming increasingly important. After a sudden shock, brain activity is more pronounced in regions. These are involved in processing emotions, assessing threats and making decisions, which enables a quick response.

However, these regions are in constant communication with sensory regions throughout the film, as if the latter were preparing reaction networks as a scary event becomes increasingly likely. That's why our brains constantly anticipate us and prepare us to respond to threats. Horror films use this in a professional manner to increase our excitement, explains researcher Matthew Hudson.

conduct experiment with brain scanner and watch horror film

You can find the study here.

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