BYU study compares link between horror movies, stress and your marriage


Did you know that being in a strong, supportive marriage can make watching horror movies less scary?

Being able to deal with fear in horror movies, however, is not the main point of a new to study by BYU researchers just appeared in the prestigious journal PLOS One. Being able to handle stressful situations of all types is.

And a good, solid marriage seems to be a powerful tool in dealing with stress.

Researchers have looked at what happens when couples watch a horror movie to prove that the quality of the relationship matters.

The science they used is called pupillometry, which in this case involved a real-time examination of marital stress through the literal lens of the body’s autonomic nervous system – the eye. Students dilate from stress long before anyone is even aware of their reaction, within 200 milliseconds of exposure to stress. Before you know you’re stressed out – and a horror movie can cause a reaction – your students react.

“Horror movies induce stress, through the fear reaction,” said lead author Tyler Graff, now an assistant professor of psychology at Wartburg College, “and our bodies can’t really differentiate where this is coming from. stress. It is therefore a very generalizable resistance test. Couples watch horror movies together all the time. And they hold hands all the time.

The researchers were to do the study in a laboratory, where they had sophisticated equipment. But they also wanted to replicate the stress of real life. Co-author Wendy C. Birmingham, associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, said she enjoys putting blood pressure cuffs on people and sending them through their lives to measure stress. But it is not possible to use pupillometry in this way.

However, many couples watch horror movies, and a lab environment wouldn’t take away the real response because of the setting. When something terrifying unexpectedly arises and scares you, you react.

“I really liked that we could put people in a lab and control what was happening to them – while still making it look like a real situation in the real world,” she said.

The eyes of history tell

Eighty-three couples answered a questionnaire and were classified as ambivalent or solidary marriages, on the basis of a scale. The couples had been married for 10 years on average and spanned several ages, with an average of just over 33 years.

They were instructed to watch the video clips alone or while holding their spouse’s hand. As they watched, their pupil dilation was measured using an infrared camera.

The horror clips created a stress response that revealed significant differences between support and solo experiences, as well as between the quality conditions of marital relationships. In both cases, holding the spouse’s hand alleviated the level of stress.

According to the study, people without support while viewing experienced “significantly higher feelings of anxiety.”

The research builds on an earlier study by the same researchers, also published in PLOS One, which showed that having your spouse nearby while you deal with stress and challenges can calm you down and allow you to complete stressful tasks. . This study involved the Stroop test, where one is presented with a word like “yellow” which is written in green and the individual is expected to choose the color and ignore the word. It is incredibly stressful.

The quality of relationships was an added element in the new study and they intend to add different types of relationships over time, Graff said. Maybe close friends or colleagues. But he said they were struck by the importance of a quality marriage when it comes to dealing with stress.

Birmingham believes that just having someone with you could reduce or increase stress, depending on who they are. Feeling judged, for example, increases stress. But she also thinks that the marital relationship, if it is good, is particularly powerful.

“The take home message for me is that, # 1, having my spouse with me during a stressful situation is heartwarming. And not only do I think it’s heartwarming emotionally, but physiologically, it changes my reactions to stress, it changes what’s going on in my body. Maybe later on I’ll be able to deal with the stress better or it doesn’t affect me as much, ”Birmingham said.

Since supportive marriages are the most useful, she hopes the study will remind people to work on their marriage. “It’s not only important that you have a supporting spouse, but that you behave yourself in a way that is supportive of your husband or wife,” she said.

Quick reaction

The technology captured approximately 1,200 measurements per second, mostly in real time. Pupillometry has been well checked and is a well accepted way to measure stress.

Steven Luke, a psychology professor at BYU, was the tech expert and co-author of the two stress studies. He explained at the time of the first study that the “interesting thing” about pupillometry is that it “will immediately measure how a person responds to stress and whether social support can change that. It’s not just a technique. different, it’s a different timescale.

The researchers listed a few limitations of the study, including that “horror music videos may not have been very believable because slasher movies may not have a high level of realism (i.e. that most people don’t expect to be tracked down by a masked madman with a hook while running down a crowded street).

A truly stressful or frightening event is difficult to reproduce in small video segments; However, it is important to know that even surprising or surprising situations are best handled with a spouse, ”they wrote.


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