“The first scene showing the vicious shark attack on the totally unsuspecting swimmer close to the shore made most viewers feel threatened in the sea. What’s remarkable is how many viewers generalised this feeling of fear to bodies of water like lakes and pools.”



“Hitchcock took a normal activity that most people do daily (showering), and infused it with terror, by showing a totally unanticipated attack in bloody horror accompanied by intense music. Many women in my studies who saw that movie are uncomfortable in the shower to this day.”

A Nightmare on Elm Street

“This film provided the quintessential recipe for insomnia because the bloodthirsty villain, Freddy Krueger, could only attack you in your dreams. So your only defence against him was to stay awake – and that’s what many reported doing.”


“The film shows a creepy clown attacking children in the bathroom, by coming up through the toilet or shower drain. It produced extended nightmares, and many children avoided the bathroom after that. For many of these children, fear of clowns extended into adulthood.” I think this is the worst movie of all, in terms of sheer trauma to children.”

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“This film hits all the vulnerabilities of children. It takes normal-looking things like a doll or a tree, and turns them into monsters. All the while the parent characters are helpless and unable to protect their kids. The result was to incite a real phobia of dolls in many people.”

The science of fear - what makes us afraid? © iStock


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Daniel BennettEditor, BBC Science Focus

Daniel Bennett is the Editor of BBC Science Focus. He is an award-winning journalist who’s been reporting on science and technology for over a decade, writing about the science of serials killers, sandwiches, supernovae and almost everything in between.