Science Tuesday: Secret to Scary Halloween Music

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer
@sanahfaroke

Don’t you just hate it when you’re watching a scary movie and all of a sudden, that kind of music begins to play like sharp, screeching violin strings and you know that something is going to jump out from behind the shower curtain and kill you (well, not you, the character, but it could happen to us #selfabsorbed).

Well, turns out that there’s an actual science to it that makes us scared. It’s not just the fact that Chucky is coming after us or a headless horseman is going to chase us down with an ax. The visuals play a huge part, don’t get me wrong, but the high-pitched music is just equally as stimulatingly terrifying.

Studies found that there is an actual connection between horror movie music and the screams of small scared animals. The irregular minor chords play a toll on a response a mother marmot feels when her children are threatened.

Researchers believe that we, biologically, are also scared when we hear dissonant sounds and minor chords, like the mama marmot. Daniel Blumstein, the leading scientist on the study is an expert on animal distress calls. He studied yellow-bellied marmots in Colorado and noticed that the marmots would “scream,” or make a “nonlinear chaotic noise” when the researchers caught them.

Blumstein put two and two together in a study he first conducted in 2010, linking nonlinear noise to scary music and found that horror producers used a lot of nonlinear noise, like a baby scream or a dissonant chord, and even recordings of animal’s screams just to scare you. It’s a trick! Don’t fall for it.

Blumstein teamed up with Peter Kaye, a film score composer and Greg Bryant, a communications professor to conduct the study. Kaye created two musical clips—one that was emotionally neutral (like something you would hear while you were shopping at Shaw’s) and another that had distorted nonlinear pitches.

Participants then ranked the music to how stimulating they were and what kind of emotion they felt after hearing it, and when it came to the nonlinear elements, participants said they felt fear.

The study also proved that when the music melody became higher, it provoked a more fearful reaction than when the notes were lower. According to Blumstein, could link us back to animal calls where a marmot’s scream pitch escalates when they are scared.

It’s just all in the pitch, isn’t it? And while we now know exactly why we get scared when the chilling soundtrack begins to play as the kid in the “Sixth Sense” says “I see dead people,” it doesn’t help us one bit from getting scared. I’m no scientist, but when you’re alone, and if you’re a wimp like me, you can always mute the TV when “Paranormal Activity” or “The Ring” comes on. It’ll make you less of a Halloween-ie  and it’ll be less scary on so many accounts.

You’re in control, unless Samara comes out of the TV, then you’re screwed.

Check out the video below (start at 03:08 unless of course you love Mean Girls):

You felt scared, right?

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