My recent memo on the "Science of Fear" event prompted an email from
the ever-curious Mary Ann Wojton, a research associate in COSI's
Center for Research and Evaluation, who wanted to learn more about the
thoughts and insights of the panelists.
One of the first questions posed after the showing of Halloween was
this: what makes scary music so dang scary? Katie Walton, a clinical
psychologist, suggested conditioning. Scary images or disturbing
scenes are tied to a certain musical melody or tone early in a film,
letting our minds create an association between the two. Later, when
just the music is heard, our brains make the quick connection that
"something bad's about to go down."
The conversation then pivoted to what we're *really* afraid of. Lauren
Jones, an economist, reminded the audience to keep the time period of
the movie - the late 1970's - firmly in mind. Of the women in the
film, what were the jobs and lifestyles of the ones who Michael Myers
targeted, and which ones were spared? Who just gave in, and who
managed to fight back?
Finally, we talked about clowns, because of course we did. The film
professor, Jane Greene, noted how the movie's villain was introduced
early in the film as a kid wearing - you guessed it - a clown costume.
Biologist Rob Pyatt suggested an explanation for the general
creepiness of clowns: usually when we see faces, they change and react
to social cues and other stimuli. But a clown face is painted with a
single unchanging expression, which unnerves us because the only other
things that do that are cadavers.
The full panelist discussion was recorded for the Sloan Foundation, so
soon you'll be able hear all their insights.