No Country For Neurotic Men

The genre of horror films is alive and well and the special effects guys can give us a clear glimpse into Armageddon several times an hour. Films are also good at manipulating our feelings of sadness and, with some documentaries, strong feelings of disgust.

We all fit on a scale of a range of personality traits, so do we all react in pretty much the same way when we go to a screening as we all know that we are just watching an image and we are warm and cozy in our seats.

Reynaud et al in yesterday’s PLoS one asked this question of people with neurotic personalities (1). They took 18 high neurotic and 15 low neurotic personalities and made them watch short film clips of harrowing scenes aimed to elicit fear, disgust or sadness.

Being good psychologists, they didn’t rely on word of mouth, but measured the skin conductivity of the participants and also had their frowning muscles monitored, although they were asked how worked up they were.

In terms of sadness there wasn’t much difference between those that were classified as highly neurotic and those just a little bit. There was a little bit more frowning when it came to fear and disgust, but the highly neurotic really broke a sweat with the fear factor as measured by skin conductance.

It’s not quite clear where this leads. Could this lead to greater suspicion of a polygraph test as a neurotic person could easily be scared into breaking a sweat? Maybe we’ll be tested at job interviews with a short horror film clip to see if we are the right material for stressful management. Of course if the special effects get much more realistic, we may have to be plugged in and shown a trailer before we get our tickets.


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