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Chaos makes a scream seem real

Researchers dissect movies to learn what fear sounds like

6:40pm, May 25, 2010

As horror-flick titles go, Night of the Living Chaos and Rosemary’s Nonlinearity aren’t the catchiest. But filmmakers know that chaos — the mathematical kind — is scary. Now scientists know it too.

Filmmakers use chaotic, unpredictable sounds to evoke particular emotions, say researchers who have assessed screams and other outbursts from more than 100 movies. The new findings, reported May 25 in Biology Letters, come as no surprise, but they do highlight an emerging if little-known area of study, says cognitive biologist W. Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna in Austria, who was not involved in the study.

“The classic example would be a screaming baby on an airplane,” says Fitch, “the kind you can’t ignore and makes your life hell.”

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