Haunted House Science: You Don’t Need Gore To Terrify, If You Know The Brain

Posted on October 31, 2015


“You can be really artful about how you scare people without a lot of gore,” says Northeastern University professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, who leads the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab at Northeastern and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“What your brain is doing is making predictions based on past experience,” Barrett says as she leads the way into the labyrinth in her basement. “So if we set up things to look really kitschy at the beginning, with a lot of props, your expectation is, ‘This is going to be pretty lame, this is not going to be very scary.’ And when you walk in, we will violate that expectation.”

According to Barrett, the brain is wired to pay huge attention to whether an object is alive or inanimate as an important means of survival. When visitors are unsure whether a figure is alive or a statue, they often “freeze in uncertainty,” she says, just like a rat in an experiment when it’s not sure whether it’s about to receive a small electric shock.

Here’s another brain-science trick: It’s scarier when you first see something out of the corner of your eye, because your peripheral vision involves more uncertainty.

Says Barrett: “When there is a lot of uncertainty, and the brain has trouble predicting what is coming next, a person gets worked up — feeling tense — because really, the brain is preparing to learn so that it can take in the information it needs to predict better the next time around when in a similar situation. And the brain often interprets this tension as ‘fear’ when the context is right — like in a haunted house.”

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Category(s):Fear, Other

Source material from Common Health