Horror movies are known for the stress and fear that they generate in their viewers. But, have you ever wondered which type is the scariest?!
Researcher Keith Bound from the University of Nottingham set out to define the types of thrills that scare us the most when watching horror movies. His methodology entailed analysing the kinds of electrodermal responses occurring during stressful situations, as when one experiences nervousness and fear. These responses are created by the release of sweat from the eccrine glands. He attached receptors to sweat glands of volunteers to measure the skin electrical activity while the latter watched 32 short clips from 8 horror films.
Bound also sought to record other physiological responses such as closing one’s eyes or turning away from the screen, as well as viewer feedback.
The results generated showed that different types of ‘psychophysiological’ fright are felt depending on the type of suspense situation. The latter is divided into four categories: direct, shared, vicarious and composite. “Direct” is about watching the movie in the first person, as though the watcher is the character in the film. “Shared” related to empathising with a character. As for “vicarious”, the viewer knows that the character’s life is threatened without the latter being aware of the danger. Lastly, “composite” includes the first three types.
According to the findings, viewers feel the most dread and tension when the relationship between the characters and them is vicarious: the former knows what is to happen while the protagonist remains unaware. No wonder this type of movie is the most stressful to watch. Next time, you’re in a cinema hall watching a horror movie, do not blame those viewers who tend to scream at protagonists to watch their back; it’s probably just their own stress that is making them behave like that.
“These findings provide evidence to support Alfred Hitchcock’s assumption that vicarious suspense is the most consistent method to generate an intense form of anxiety and suspense,” Bound said in a press release. “But cinematic techniques such as cinematography, editing, sound and set design also play a part in the viewer experience.”