"Be...more afraid"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 24 October 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

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.

About the Author

Paul Sutter

Paul Sutter

Paul Sutter is COSI's Chief Scientist. He is an astrophysicist and offers a wealth of knowledge about our universe. In addition to his COSI position, Paul Sutter is a Cosmological Researcher and Community Outreach Coordinator at The Ohio State University's Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP).