- Scientists measure stress levels in 83 couples while watching horror movies
- When holding hands, blood pressure was low, and pupil size was small
- This indicates that holding hands can reduce fear in stressful situations.
From The Conjuring to A Quiet Place, horror movies have been a favorite among movie buffs for generations.
If watching a horror movie gives you nightmares for weeks, there’s good news, as new research has shown that holding a loved one’s hand can help reduce fear levels.
Researchers measured the stress levels of movie watchers using blood pressure readings and eye trackers, while they were holding their partner’s hand, and watching alone.
The results suggest that holding a loved one can make watching horror movies less scary – especially for married couples.
If watching a horror movie gives you nightmares for weeks, there’s good news, as new research has shown that holding a loved one’s hand can help reduce fear levels (stock image)
‘Fight or flight is very simple’ and people actually have six reactions to stress
Dr. Curtis Risinger, clinical psychologist at Zucker Hillside Hospital, told New York Magazine The ‘fight or flight’ response to stress has been simplified, and that there are other ways humans have evolved to adapt to stress.
The six responses to stress include:
- Fighting: Fighting Danger
- Flight: Running away from danger
- Freezing: To freeze and do nothing in response to a threat
- Flood: To be filled with emotion in response to danger
- fawn: to assist or render someone’s intimidation or captive
- Fatigue: feeling tired and/or sleepy in response to a threat
Choosing to sleep in times of danger seems counterintuitive, but Dr. Risinger said, stress uses up energy quickly.
When someone is faced with multiple mental or physical tasks, he said, they use up glucose in the brain.
The brain requires large amounts of energy, and taking naps in response to stressful situations is a way for the body to replenish low levels of glucose in the brain.
However, this type of response to stress is commonly seen in children and infants.
Dr. Risinger says that children have limited resources for stress relief, and as such they use sleep to manage stress.
With restored energy levels, people are more able to manage their stress and keep their challenges in perspective – and the same concept applies to eating candy in response to stress.
The finding was based on 83 couples in the US who were either holding hands or sitting apart as they were shown a video clip.
Stress levels were measured by blood pressure readings and eye trackers that measure pupil dilation.
The films were I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and Alaska’s Wild Denali.
The first two were chosen for fear removal and the third for neutral response.
Lead author Dr Tyler Graff, a psychologist at Brigham Young University in Utah, said: ‘The horror video clip elicited a stress response.
‘There were significant differences between support and non-support conditions as well as marital relationship quality status.’
Participants who held hands – and were in a strong relationship – felt much less stress.
Humans have the unique ability to activate a stress or fear response to threats that are sometimes not even real.
Horror movies take advantage of this to provoke very real fear and stress reactions in movie watchers, even when no threat is present.
Dr Graf said: ‘Importantly, obtaining emotional support can reduce the effects through buffering of stress.’
When individuals are stressed their pupils dilate – fluctuations controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
This includes reacting to stressors and enhancing the fight-or-flight response by the sympathetic nervous system.
Emotional support in the form of holding a spouse’s hand influenced the acute stress response—particularly in high-quality relationships.
Dr Graf said: ‘When exposed to the horror video clip, participants demonstrated an increase in pupil dilation.
‘Individuals who received emotional support in the form of handholding showed a weaker pupil stress response.
‘Those who are in supportive marital relationships will benefit more from the emotional support of a spouse than those who are bisexual.’
Clips ranged from 31 seconds to 78 seconds. There was at least one ‘catastrophic jump scare’ in the horror movie scenes for the participant to react.
Participants who received emotional support (blue) in the form of holding hands showed a weaker pupil stress response. People who are in supportive marital relationships benefited more from the emotional support of a spouse than those who were bisexual
The volunteers were asked how often they watched horror movies and ‘Did it help you hold your spouse’s hand?’
Previous research by the same team found that emotional support from spouses reduces the acute stress response of the ANS.
They ‘applied directly to married couples,’ Graff explained.
Dr Graf said: ‘This effect was a common, real-life tension – seen from horror movies.
‘If you want to experience a lesser stress response while watching a horror movie, try this by holding your spouse’s hand.
‘Also, you should take a moment before the movie starts to make sure you have a supportive marital relationship.’
How does the disciple work?
The pupil is the opening in the center of the iris (the structure that gives our eyes their colour).
The function of the pupil is to allow light to enter the eye where it is then focused onto the retina.
The dark color of the pupil occurs because light passes through it and is then absorbed by the retina – meaning no light is reflected.
The size of the pupil and how much light enters it is controlled by the muscles in the iris.
One muscle constricts the opening of the pupil and the other iris muscle dilates the pupil.
In low light conditions, the pupil dilates so that more light can reach the retina to improve nighttime…