The Science of Spooky Music

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Many people appreciate a good scare once in a while. Some love it so much they’re willing to pay to see scary movies in theaters.

Among the many formulas of a good scary movie, one thing you’ll notice is that the music plays a huge part in the scare. Curse those music directors who make watching scary movies with your eyes closed a futile attempt at reducing the scariness

But why are some music scary to us? Is there a logical explanation for it?

The Science of Spooky Music

Two common reasons why we perceive some music as scary are intense dissonance and nonlinear chaotic noise.

Intense Dissonance

Intense dissonance is dissonance that that continues for longer than our “limits.” Many studies have proven that listening to music can induce some physical and motor responses. Composers have known this fact for a long time now. They used it to their advantage by playing pitches that clash and keep it going for a long time to make us who hear the tune feel uneasy.

Playing the tritone is also another way to produce a piece that sounds dissonant. When two tones that are three steps apart (like C and G) are combined, they give off that negative ambiance that you can feel on crawling on your skin.

Nonlinear Chaotic Noise

Nonlinear chaotic noise is naturally produced by distressed baby animals. The sound that supposed to draw the attention of their parents can also affect human emotion in a negative way. Soundtrack engineers then cleverly incorporate such noise in horror movies. Even when you close your eyes, the sound effect still stirs fear and horror within you.

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Another reason for our fear response to music is association. If a piece of music is used in an intense scene of a scary movie, you’ll associate it with fear the next time you hear again in other movies.

The human brain loves the association game; linking one thing with another. It’s the reason why people love a certain kind of simple dish because their moms used to make it when they’re kids. Ratatouille anyone?

Of course, to some people, the fact that they know what makes music scary might do very little when it comes to overcoming it. Yours truly is sadly included.

Anyhow, the next time your loved one drags your sorry bum to the theater to watch another scary movie, keep in mind that your fear is all logical and can be scientifically explained. Don’t be shy to scream your heart out, OK?

And in the light of the coming Halloween, why not change and be the one who scares people. Grab a couple of scary Halloween ambiance just to liven things up.


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