Scary Music Scarier with Eyes Closed

Researchers have found that closing your eyes can make creepy music feel creepier. (Image credit: Stockexpert)

You may not want to close your eyes during scary moments in horror movies.

New research suggests the brain regards creepy music as even more frightening when eyes are closed rather than open, scientists now reveal.

A lot of times people like to close their eyes while listening to music to feel more immersed in it, said researcher Talma Hendler, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Intriguingly, she noted that past studies revealed that closing one's eyes could alter one's brain waves.

To more deeply understand the effect that closed eyes had on the brain, scientists had 15 volunteers listen with their eyes open or closed to music clips with scary "Hitchcock-like, frightening themes," Hendler said, as well as comparatively emotionally neutral melody-less musical tones.

As expected, the researchers found that closing one's eyes enhanced the responses the volunteers felt toward the more emotionally charged scary music. Brain scans revealed that activity ramped up in the amygdala, a primary center for emotion in the brain. In turn, the amygdala fired up brain regions linked with vigilance to the environment and regulation of emotion.

These findings were not seen when volunteers were placed in complete darkness with their eyes open. This suggests these effects are not related to vision alone.

"It seems when you close your eyes, your brain has this reflexive response to go into a different state of mind that results in the amplification of certain information," Hendler said.

Although the amygdala is known to be more sensitive to negative emotions than positive ones, Hender expected very similar results with positive music as well.

In the future, a better understanding of how music can affect the brain could help lead to it enhancing therapies for mood disorders and other ailments. "And if you want to use music for therapy, or just want to be more immersed in it, it seems you should close your eyes," Hendler said.

The scientists detailed their findings online July 15 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Charles Q. Choi
Live Science Contributor
Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Live Science and He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica.