You’re going on a date this weekend and you want to see a movie, but which movie should you go to? You might think that going to see a romantic movie would be the most likely way to make some sparks fly between you and your date, but according to research Scream 4 is likely the better choice.
It may seem odd, but there’s good reason to expect that watching a horror movie could increase attraction between partners. In particular, situations that elevate your arousal have been shown to heighten attraction. Arousal, eh? Get your mind out of the gutter; what scientists mean by “arousal” is somewhat different than the sexual arousal you may be thinking about, although, as you’ll see, the two are linked in interesting ways. When we say “arousal,” we are referring to things like alertness, engagement, and a heightened level of physical activity, such as an elevated heart rate.
Watching a scary movie is a prime example of something that could elevate your arousal level; imagine your reaction to watching Scream compared to Hannah Montana. The horror flick is much more likely to have you cowering in your seat due to arousal. It turns out that you are primed to be attracted to people you meet when you are experiencing higher levels of arousal, especially when you don’t even know it.
Imagine that you’re out hiking in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia and you come to a bridge that you must cross to reach the other side of the canyon. But, this isn’t just any bridge. This particular bridge is straight out of an Indiana Jones movie: it is shaky and wobbly, longer than a football field, and is swaying 20 stories high in the air over a river chock-full of jagged rocks. As you cross the bridge you meet an experimenter who shows you an ambiguous picture and asks you to tell a story about what might be taking place in that scene. As you finish your response, the experimenter gives you his/her phone number in case you “have any questions about the study” and you continue on your way. Meanwhile, further down the river, other participants did the same thing and talked to the same experimenter while crossing a sturdy and wide bridge that was only 10 feet above the water.
The psychologists who conducted this experiment, Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron,1 wanted to see if the shaky bridge led the males in their study to express greater attraction to the female experimenter. Before we get to the findings, really imagine yourself crossing the shaky bridge…you feel a bit nervous and unsure of yourself, your heart is beating, your stomach feels a bit queasy, and you are sweating just a bit– the fear of plunging to your death has a way of doing that. This physiological response is likely a reasonable reaction for a bridge crossing, but it also sounds an awful lot like a first date and watching a horror movie. Dutton and Aron speculated that walking across the bridge created a sense of arousal that participants would mistakenly believe was caused by the experimenter, rather than the physical environment (“Why is my heart racing? I must love you!”). Sure enough, they discovered that males who crossed the shaky bridge were actually more likely to call the experimenter (ostensibly because they were attracted to her) than the males who crossed the sturdy bridge. Moreover, those same shaky-bridge guys wrote stories that contained more sexual content than those who crossed the sturdy bridge. They interpreted these findings as evidence that the guys on the shaky bridge misattributed the arousal caused by the shaky bridge to the experimenter– putting their minds in the gutter and making them more likely to pursue her.
So, bringing this back to your choice of movies this weekend, if you want your date to find you attractive then watching Ghostface terrorize Courtney Cox, Anna Paquin, Emma Roberts and a bunch of other famous people (seriously there are a bunch of famous people in this movie) is a good choice. His/her arousal due to the movie might be attributed to you!
Click here for more on misattribution of arousal on the show “Love in the Wild.”