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Physiological Response to Fear in Expected and Unexpected Situations on Heart Rate, Respiration Rate

and Horizontal Eye Movements

Christopher Schmitz, Lindsey Drake, Megan Laake, Peng Yin, and Rachel Pradarelli

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Physiology


Previous research has associated fear with the induction of a psychological reaction as well as
the startle response in individuals. This study investigates these components of fear by comparing an
individual’s physiological responses in expected and unexpected settings. Measurements were recorded
for the heart rate (HR), respiration rate (RR), and the peak-to-peak value (PP) and slope (or speed) of the
horizontal eye movement. We hypothesize and therefore expect to observe a greater physiological
change among these measurements for the unexpected stimulus relative to the expected stimulus. The
difference between the baseline measurements and the measurements recorded during the fear
stimulus were used to compare the physiological response for the expected and unexpected trials. The
differences were calculated to be the following (expected, unexpected): HR=3.03 bpm, 19.25 bpm;
RR=1.81 bpm, 1.80 bpm; PP= - 0.006 mV, 0.32 mV; slope=0.078 mV/sec, 0.84 mV/sec. These differences
for three of the parameters (HR, PP, and slope) all indicated that the unexpected setting induced a
heightened physiological response, besides the respiration rate which showed similar values between
the two stimuli. The p-values for the differences in the HR (p=0.024), PP (p=0.005), and slope (p=0.004)
were all significant (p0.05). In addition, the differences of the HR and RR for the recovery period (first 10
seconds-last 10 seconds) of the expected and unexpected stimuli were compared. These values were
found to be the following (expected, unexpected): HR= -0.92 bpm, 1.98 bpm; RR=2.78 bpm, -0.83 bpm.
These results indicated that the HR for the expected trial recovered slower, but the RR for the expected
trial recovered faster. Only the RR recovery (p=0.095) showed a significant p-value, while that for HR
(p=0.33) was insignificant. Overall, the unexpected stimulus was shown to induce an increased
physiological response with respect to HR and the intensity and speed of the eye movement. These data
are consistent with the hypothesis that the startle response of fear produces a significant change in the
human physiology.
A Psychophysiological Study of Horror Film Viewing
M. Adam Palmer Texas State

University-San Marcos


The horror film industry brings in viewers from all over the world and from every caste
of life. But, people differ greatly in their enjoyment of horror movies. The primary purpose of this
research was to look at the individual differences in people’s horror film viewing behavior; furthermore,
whether certain personality traits predicted physiological reactions to horror film viewing. This research
was divided into two conditions. The questionnaire-only condition was reserved for individuals that
indicated a dislike for horror films. Those in the questionnaire-physiology condition also completed the
questionnaires and were presented a film consisting of horror clips while physiological variables (heart
rate, blood pressure and skin conductance) were examined. In between groups analysis, a non-
significant trend for increased Fearlessness in the questionnairephysiology condition relative to the
questionnaire-only condition. Systolic blood pressure (SBP) was the only physiological indicatory that
increased significantly from the baseline to the film. Furthermore, increases in SBP were inversely
correlated with Fearlessness and positively correlated with Coldheartedness. These results suggest
personality differences in people that watch horror movies and people that do not. Furthermore, it
suggests physiological differences within and between those that watch horror films.
Self-Expression on Social Media: Do Tweets Present Accurate and Positive Portraits of
Impulsivity, Self-Esteem, and Attachment Style?
Edward Orehek1 and Lauren J. Human2


Self-expression values are at an all-time high, and people are increasingly relying upon social
media platforms to express themselves positively and accurately. We examined whether self-expression
on the social media platform Twitter elicits positive and accurate social perceptions. Eleven perceivers
rated 128 individuals (targets; total dyadic impressions = 1,408) on their impulsivity, self-esteem, and
attachment style, based solely on the information provided in targets’ 10 most recent tweets. Targets
were on average perceived normatively and with distinctive self-other agreement, indicating both positive
and accurate social perceptions. There were also individual differences in how positively and accurately
targets were perceived, which exploratory analyses indicated may be partially driven by differential word
usage, such as the use of positive emotion words and self- versus other-focus. This study demonstrates
that self-expression on social media can elicit both positive and accurate perceptions and begins to shed
light on how to curate such perceptions.