Witch Flying on Broom at Night Over Manor House

The Science of Scare

I’m guessing I’m not the only person who’s seen this research study popping up all over their social media. broadbandchoices, a broadband internet, mobile/home phone, and TV provider based in the UK, has conducted a study to determine the scariest horror movie ever made: The Science of Scare. Their team reviewed lists of best horror films from critics and on Reddit, and complied what they believe to be a list of the 50 best horror movies of all time.

Then they found 50 participants and had them all watch of the movies while wearing heart rate monitors to track heart rate spikes and compare average heart rates during the movies with their average resting rates.

List of 35 horror movies ranked by average heart rate of 50 people while watching them.
Credit: https://www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/features/science-of-scare

The scientific rigor of this study certainly raises a lot of questions. Lists of best movies are incredibly subjective, and they do not provide the number of sources they consulted or provide the specific lists they took their movies from. How much of their final list was determined based on what was easily available to view? Also, they all seem to be predominantly English language movies (The Orphanage is the only one I’m familiar with on that list that was made in Spanish, but did they watch with subtitles or did they watch a dubbed version?). How did they settle on heart rate as the determining factor of what is scary–was it just because heart rate is relatively easy and noninvasive to measure? How did they pick the participants? What are their demographics (a Nerdist writeup says the participants were of different ages, but I’m not seeing anything about that from broadbandchoices)? What was their previous exposure to/feelings about the genre; did they have any pre-existing medical conditions that could have affected their heart rate monitoring? Under what conditions were the films screened–together, individually, at home, consecutively?

What do you all think? Is this just some harmless Halloween fun, or do “studies” like this contribute to a false narrative that data is objective?

For the record, I’ve never even heard of their top movie, and of their list of 35, I’ve seen 18. You?

2 thoughts on “The Science of Scare

  1. Faihaa Khan (she/her)

    This is super interesting to look into! The questions you raised are things I was wondering about too when I looked into this experiment. Fear is subjective and the cause of a raised heart rate could be due to a number of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the movie. Also in my personal experience I find that reading subtitles when watching a foreign film does distract me a bit from the movie so I theorize that watching a foreign horror movie that is subtitled might take some individuals out of the scare factor when viewing.

    1. Brianna Caszatt (she/her/hers) Post author

      Right? I was wondering the same thing too. Would reading subtitles keep the heart rates down because the audience is missing some of the jump scares, or are they more invested in film because they’re paying closer attention? I don’t know; it’s interesting to think about though.

      I’m also very curious about how they watched the films? If in a group setting, would people be feeding off of each other’s fears, or would they feel safer being surrounded by people (and perhaps be distracted by their reactions) rather than watching alone?

      I’m also so curious as to what the other 15 movies were from their list that didn’t match the cut in their final results?

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