Ever wonder what watching Jaws would have been like without the soundtrack? Researchers have published the findings of a study which might explain why scary music featured in films freak us out so much.
The study, published in the journal Biology Letters, was led by an expert on animal distress calls named Daniel Blumstein. Blumstein explains that just like when animals screech when threatened,
certain sounds can trigger a biologically ingrained response in humans by playing on our deepest biologically-engrained emotions. The focus was placed on"nonlinear sounds" - a dissonant chord, a child’s cry, a baby animal’s
scream – which are often featured in famous horror scores.
To determine this, Blumstein teamed up with film score composer Peter Kaye and communications professor Greg Bryant to create music samples. The duo composed one set of musical clips meant to be emotionally neutral and another set that used “distorted” nonlinear elements. Participants were asked to rate the music segments based on how emotionally stimulating they were and what kind of emotion they evoked.
Predictably, the participants ranked the music with nonlinear elements more stimulating and linked it to strongly negative emotions such as fear. They also found that musical clips where the melodies suddenly became higher provoked greater emotional stimulation than moments when the notes suddenly went lower.
In following study, participants were asked to watch objectively boring videos (of activities like drinking coffee or reading a book) paired with the nonlinear music. Participants found the same distorted music much less emotionally stimulating (and much less scary) when it went along with a boring video. The suggests that visual stimuli is more important than audio stimuli in prompting emotional reactions. So maybe that explains why most folks prefer to shut their eyes rather than ears during scary scenes.