Synthetic Fear: How to Make a Scary Movie

Over the years, movie-makers have tried to go beyond what’s on the screen to scare theatergoers. In the 1950s, director William Castle startled those viewing his horror films, notably The Tingler, with gimmicks like vibrators installed under some theater seats. When the creature escapes into a theater in the movie, Vincent Price’s voice warns the viewers that the Tingler is loose and tells them to scream. At this moment, the theater projectionist would activate buzzers under the seats of a few people in the audience, often eliciting the desired screams. Smell-O-Vision was another attempt to go beyond the screen by inducing odors at appropriate points, but technical flaws ruined its 1960 debut and it was abandoned. Infrasound, very low frequency audio which humans don’t consciously perceive, has been used in movies to amplify audience fear. While we haven’t seen 1950s-style panic-inducing creativity lately, neuroscience may be close to giving today’s directors an even more powerful tool: […]

By | August 3rd, 2009|

Are Political Views Hard-wired?

We know that political marketing – the art of persuading voters to support your candidate – is perhaps the most challenging and least productive form of marketing. A couple of years ago in The Neuroscience of Political Marketing, I described how research shows that political ads seem to go through an “emotional filter” that, in essence, causes voters to discount messages that are inconsistent with their current beliefs. Thus, an accusation that one’s favored candidate took money from special interest groups is likely to be dismissed as a partisan smear rather than evaluated rationally. If that wasn’t enough to frustrate political marketers, there’s now sketchy evidence that our political views may be determined by more fundamental brain wiring attributes. […]

By | September 19th, 2008|

Fear Factor Branding: The Best Ad Placement Ever

One of the interesting tricks our brains play on us is to transfer physiological and emotional states that we are experiencing to something else going on at the same time. In Sway, authors Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman describe one of the more unusual experiments in behavior I’ve seen. In fact, it sounds like the perfect research boondoggle, as it required traveling to a remote location of incredible natural beauty. Oh, and did I mention that an attractive female research assistant was part of the experiment? Even if this road trip started off as a lark, the results it produced were quite interesting. Here’s the quick setup: the researchers traveled to Capilano Canyon in Vancouver, a scenic gorge that (at the time of the experiments) was conveniently traversed by two bridges: a sturdy and safe wooden one, and a scary, swaying rope bridge built in the 1800s and offering the possibility of falling up to 230 feet along its 450 foot length. […]

By | August 19th, 2008|

Pain, Fear, and Vicarious Learning

Why do people react with fear when they see a snake, even though they have never been bitten by a snake or even had much contact with the reptiles? New research shows that the same areas of the brain that [...]

By | March 22nd, 2007|

The Dread Zone: Anticipating Pain

Neuroscientists have used fMRI to discover that the brain's anticipation of pain can be as bad as actually experiencing the pain. Marketers should use pain references carefully.

By | May 8th, 2006|