Archive for December, 2012

Neurobiology of Fear

December 17, 2012

Continued from post What is Horror?

If the Horror genre is best defined by the intention to elicit and manipulate the emotion of fear, what then exactly is the emotion of fear?

The dictionary defines fear as: a feeling of agitation and dread caused by the presence or imminence of danger.

Persons experiencing fear display increased alertness, concentration on the source of fear, attack and fight-or-flight behaviors, and evidence of sympathetic-nerve stimulation such as cardiovascular excitation, superficial vasoconstriction, and dilation of the pupils.

Fear evolved as a basic survival mechanism. It is the ability to recognize danger, which leads to an urge to confront the danger, or flee from it: the fight-or-flight response. This mechanism allows animals to move quickly away from a location of perceived threat and hide.  All people experience fear as an instinctual response to potential danger – this mechanism is important to the survival of all species.

Although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature.  Many studies have found that certain fears are much more common than others.  These fears, such as fear of heights, predatory animals, darkness, etc. are also easier to induce in the laboratory. Because early humans who were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, certain innate fears developed as a result of natural selection.

People also develop specific fears as a result of learning.  Fear can be acquired through a traumatic event. The area of the brain most involved with the learning of conditioned fears is the amygdala.

Amygdala

The amygdala is located behind the pituitary gland. In the presence of a threatening stimulus the amygdala generates a secretion of hormones that influence fear and aggression. Once response to the fear stimulus commences, the amygdala elicits the release of hormones into the body to put the person into a state of alertness, in which they are ready to move, run, fight, etc.

There are many physiological changes in the body associated with fear. The fight-or-flight response accelerates heart rate, dilates blood vessels, and increases muscle tension and breathing rate. Only after this series of physiological changes, does the consciousness realize an emotion of fear.

After a situation which incites fear occurs, the amygdala and the hippocampus record the event.  The stimulation of the hippocampus will cause the individual to remember many details surrounding the situation. Memory formation in the amygdala is generated by activating the neurons in the region.  Once the person is in safe mode, meaning there are no longer any potential threats surrounding them, the amygdala will send this information to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) where it is stored for similar future situations.  The storing of memory in the mPFC is known as memory consolidation.

Recent studies show that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have only observed the fear in others. Fear responses in the amygdala can develop in both conditions.

Fear is transferable.

This is partly achieved through mirror neurons.  A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another.  The neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer himself were acting, not simply watching. Such neurons have been directly observed in primates and other species. Mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.

Fear and the emotional response to dangerous situations can be triggered through observation and simulation.  Recreational Horror, such as Horror movies, roller coasters, and Haunt Attractions, all simulate danger for the bodily pleasure of the fight-or-flight response in the absence of real threat.

Corpse Bride

December 13, 2012

Hey kiddies.  I shot this for fun the other day.  My children have dubbed it ‘The Corpse Bride’.

Bride

I rented the corpse from BJ Winslow and dressed it up in a wedding dress that I found at a thrift-store.  I aged the dress and veil with Lipton tea. I rented the coffin from my friend Jerry at Have Guns Will Rent.  I borrowed the ring from my sister. I photographed my Corpse Bride in the garage, with black fabric as a backdrop, a single soft-box as the light source, and white foam-core to bounce light into my shadow areas. Here you can see me getting things set up:

001

It was fun to shoot something so uncomplicated.

What is Horror?

December 2, 2012

The Horror genre is a vast sprawling landscape, populated by numerous sub-genres and hybridized genre mutants, like the Horror-Comedy, Sci-Fi Horror, and even the Horror Musical.  Some would argue that it is impossible to devise a definition of Horror that encapsulates them all.  What is the difference between a Horror film and a Thriller?  Or a Horror film and a Suspense film?  Does a movie require a monster, or a supernatural element to qualify as Horror?

Dictionary.com defines Horror as “an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting.”

The Horror genre seeks to elicit this negative emotional reaction from viewers.  Stock elements, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, and so forth, may populate the Horror genre, but they do not define it. Movies about the supernatural, and movies with monsters, are not necessarily always horrific.  I believe that the Horror genre is best defined by it’s intent to terrorize the audience.

Although many sequences in non-Horror films are frightening, they do so to advance narrative agendas that have something other than fear at their cores.  Non-Horror films may frighten the audience to tell their stories, but Horror films tell stories to frighten the audience.  In the former, fear is a side effect; in the latter, it is the object of the exercise.


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