Many of us have probably heard of news stories about people who have experienced a sudden cardiac arrest while watching movies from the horror or thriller genres, as well as some unfortunate people who experienced the same fate while at an amusement park.
Moreover, we are currently seeing an increase in such movies being made with at many horror movies being released each month, especially in October due to this being the month of Halloween (October 31).
The phrase “jump scare” refers to a technique utilized by film or game makers designed to heighten the viewer experience during a horror, thriller or mystery movie. Such moments often cause the viewer to jump as they are not expecting the event which, in turn, evokes a fight or flight response in the body.
Generally, fear is produced in the amygdala region of the brain. The amygdala is an almond-shaped part of the brain located in the medial temporal lobe, which is a part of the brain known as the limbic system, responsible for emotional processes. This part of the brain combines memories with emotions and feelings to create a response to various situations that differs from person to person.
When we encounter new experiences in life that we were previously unaware of, this part of the brain will analyse, compare and process the information, resulting in us feeling distrust, anxiety or fear. Then, as the process ends and that new experience is deemed by the amygdala as being worthy of fear, the information will be transferred to the sympathetic nervous system that is connected to the spinal cord and then stimulates adrenal glands. Subsequently the epinephrine hormone is released into our bloodstream – or adrenaline as it’s more commonly known – alongside norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline. These chemicals cause a number of physical responses, including increased blood pressure, increased pulse resulting in faster breathing and the circulatory system functioning faster than usual, sweating, excitement, and the adrenal glands working harder than normal to produce cortisol. All of this results in the body and its various functions working consistently harder than before the “scare” event occurred.
Cardiologists are of the opinion that while movies with jump scare scenes may not pose a heart attack risk to everyone, if someone suffers from paranoia or PTSD, is elderly or has a pre-existing heart condition, it is recommended that they avoid watching such movies and that they should not partake in fear-evoking activities, including amusement park rides, as the risks far outweigh the benefits of doing so.
In addition to these groups, children under the age of 10 years are also not advised to be taken into watch horror or thriller movies as they are not yet fully capable of separating fact from fiction. Seeing these types of movie could result in them reliving the scary parts over and over into adulthood, developing an irrational fear, which could have more detrimental effects thereafter.
For those of you in good health, there is no need to refrain from watching scary movies. Nevertheless, if you experience any abnormal symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat leading to faintness or dizziness, as well as shooting pains in the chest or arms, you should attend a heart screening appointment with a cardiologist. This will help to restore confidence that your heart is still healthy and that you are capable of leading a normal life.
The Second Class Honors, M.D.,Faculty of Medicine, Srinakharinwirot University, 2007.