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'I'll Never Have a Clown in My House!' Frightening Movies and Enduring Emotional Memory
Unformatted Document Text:  Frightening Movies 19 particular make of car, a certain type of intersection, or any other detail that was prominent at the time of the accident. According to LeDoux, evolution favors the survival of animals (including humans) that can quickly identify stimuli that are life-threatening and that immediately take defensive action. In addition, the emotional memory system makes sure that memories of things that have endangered us in the past are extremely accurate, so that whenever we encounter similar things even years later, we will be prepared to act quickly again. Because of this, implicit fear memories are especially enduring. Research shows that although our conscious memories of fearful situations are not always correct and are quite malleable over time, implicit fear memories are highly resistant to change. In fact, LeDoux calls them "indelible": Unconscious fear memories established through the amygdala appear to be indelibly burned into the brain. They are probably with us for life. This is often very useful, especially in a stable, unchanging world, since we don’t want to have to learn about the same kinds of dangers over and over again. But the downside is that sometimes the things that are imprinted in the amygdala’s circuits are maladaptive. In these instances, we pay dearly for the incredible efficiencies of the fear system. (LeDoux ,1996, p. 252). What may be happening with these lingering effects of movies is similar to LeDoux’s descriptions of fear conditioning. If we experienced intense fear while watching Jaws, our implicit fear reactions, for example, the heart-rate increases, blood pressure changes, and muscle tension, became conditioned to the image of the shark, to the notion of swimming, to the musical score – most likely to a combination of the stimuli in the movie. Later, one of these stimuli – or even thoughts of these stimuli – trigger these unconscious reactions, even after our conscious minds have gotten past the problem. Similarly, people who were traumatized while watching Poltergeist experienced fear conditioning to images of clowns, trees outside windows,

Authors: Cantor, Joanne.
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background image
Frightening Movies
19
particular make of car, a certain type of intersection, or any other detail that was prominent at the
time of the accident.
According to LeDoux, evolution favors the survival of animals (including humans) that
can quickly identify stimuli that are life-threatening and that immediately take defensive action.
In addition, the emotional memory system makes sure that memories of things that have
endangered us in the past are extremely accurate, so that whenever we encounter similar things
even years later, we will be prepared to act quickly again. Because of this, implicit fear
memories are especially enduring. Research shows that although our conscious memories of
fearful situations are not always correct and are quite malleable over time, implicit fear
memories are highly resistant to change. In fact, LeDoux calls them "indelible":
Unconscious fear memories established through the amygdala appear to be indelibly
burned into the brain. They are probably with us for life. This is often very useful,
especially in a stable, unchanging world, since we don’t want to have to learn about the
same kinds of dangers over and over again. But the downside is that sometimes the things
that are imprinted in the amygdala’s circuits are maladaptive. In these instances, we pay
dearly for the incredible efficiencies of the fear system. (LeDoux ,1996, p. 252).
What may be happening with these lingering effects of movies is similar to LeDoux’s
descriptions of fear conditioning. If we experienced intense fear while watching Jaws, our
implicit fear reactions, for example, the heart-rate increases, blood pressure changes, and muscle
tension, became conditioned to the image of the shark, to the notion of swimming, to the musical
score – most likely to a combination of the stimuli in the movie. Later, one of these stimuli – or
even thoughts of these stimuli – trigger these unconscious reactions, even after our conscious
minds have gotten past the problem. Similarly, people who were traumatized while watching
Poltergeist experienced fear conditioning to images of clowns, trees outside windows,


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