For most of us, horror movies are an acquired taste. When you sit down and watch a movie, in the back of your mind you know it is not real. Yet some movies seem to induce feelings of utter terror, which feel all too real and have you on the edge of your seat.
But did you know that watching horror movies has some strange but fascinating effects on our brains? Recall the last time you jumped or gasped during a horror film.
Michael Grabowski, an associate professor of communication at Manhattan College, with a background in filmmaking and neurocinematics (the connection between the mind and the experience of cinema), argues that “when we’re watching something we’ve shut down the motor regions of the brain, and yet those stimuli [like those from a shocking scene] are so strong that they overcome the inhibition to the motor system”.
In other words, we jump or yell because a horror film bypasses our tranquilized state, taps into our primal instinct, triggers the flight or fight response and urges us react immediately to protect ourselves and warn others — before taking time to process what scared us.
In the future, Gabrowski adds, it’s possible that filmmakers will be able to use even more precise insights to directly stimulate certain emotions, to control when their audiences jump and what they feel.
Virtual reality, in particular, is an extremely powerful technology which, when used in film-making, will make it even harder for us to tell reality from fiction. The possibilities that this new technology produces are numerous and also rather scary.