Halloween is right around the corner, which means you may be spending time going to the pumpkin patch, walking through haunted houses or watching horror movies at Regal Spartan Cinemas. If you enjoy scary activities during this season, you may be asking yourself what makes them so terrifying? The answer in many cases comes down to the science of hearing.
How Do We Hear?
Soundwaves from your environment are captured by the outer ear and travel down the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum. When the soundwave hits the eardrum, a vibration is created, which passes through three tiny bones within the middle ear called the malleus, incus and stapes. This vibration reaches the fluid-filled cochlea in the inner ear, which causes the fluid to move. The movement activates the tiny hair cells that line the cochlea, creating an electrical impulse. This electrical impulse travels via the auditory nerve to the brain where it is interpreted as sound.
What Sounds Are Scariest?
Have you ever watched a movie with a soundtrack that gave you nightmares later? Or heard a sound that sent chills down your spine? There is a certain kind of sound that is especially terrifying called a nonlinear sound.
Nonlinear soundwaves have very high amplitudes compared to the sound. Examples of non-linear sounds include a human scream or the cry of an animal.
Scary movie soundtracks often contain simulated nonlinear sounds in order to evoke certain emotions. Examples include the Jaws theme and Jurassic Park roars.
The reason these sounds are scary is that they extend beyond the normal capacity of the vocal cords. Our brains have evolved to understand that these sounds mean something is wrong.
What the Research Shows
According to researchers from University of California and Kingston University, “Many vertebrates, including humans, produce and respond to harsh, nonlinear vocalizations when alarmed, possibly because these are produced when acoustic production systems (vocal cords and syrinxes) are overblown in stressful, dangerous situations.”
The researchers note that humans are more responsive to infant cries that contain nonlinearities than those that don’t. This is because they are less predictable and therefore harder to habituate to.
For more information about scary sounds or how we hear them, or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, call Spartanburg & Greer Ear, Nose & Throat today.