Squicked by real gore, fine with fake gore...why?
February 11, 2013 12:34 PM Subscribe
Have there been any actual studies shedding light on the disparate reactions of (most?) adult humans to real versus fake scenes involving blood, guts, injuries, etc.? More to the point, is there any sort of evidence that as a species we're good at identifying simulated blood, etc., at a glance despite it superficially "looking real", and what physiological markers might indicate this?
posted by aecorwin to science & nature (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
OK, so, between finding out I need to undergo a fairly nasty-sounding periodontal procedure (crown lengthening on a broken tooth) and watching the film "Hobo With A Shotgun" recently, I've been doing a fair bit of musing on the nature and manifestation(s) of squeamishness.
In general I tend to be fairly squeamish when it comes to "real" injuries, whether I or someone in my vicinity is the injured party. I have to wear gloves when cutting up meat for my cats in order to avoid being exceedingly grossed out. I've had mild vasovagal-type responses (sweating, light-headedness, sudden need to lie down) to even just looking at pictures of certain types of physical trauma. Etc.
When it comes to simulated gore, however...well, I've watched through several seasons of "Bones" and a number of other forensics-focused shows that don't skimp on the icky props while eating dinner. I've also seen my share of bloody action and/or horror movies and while occasionally something on the screen will elicit a startle response or a moment of disgust, the subjective experience is worlds apart from my responses to anything real.
Granted there are some films I simply will not watch because the mere idea of them just intrinsically grosses me out (e.g., "The Human Centipede") but still. It just sort of struck me how interesting it is that the brain is capable of internalizing the fact that something isn't real and adjusting autonomic responses accordingly. And that got me wondering what the mechanisms behind this sort of thing are, as I am certain this is a fairly common and entirely non-snowflakey state of affairs to which I refer.
So, in other words, why the heck does a photo of a fractured index finger in a first-aid book make me outright woozy, whereas an image on my TV of someone having their hand chopped off in a lawnmower merely makes me go "ew!"?
Obviously knowing the difference between fantasy and reality (and thus being able to acknowledge that nobody is actually being hurt) is a big factor, but I have to wonder what it is about human cognition that makes it possible for the knowledge that something is fake to penetrate all the way down past the visceral response and override what is actually being seen.
I'd be curious to check out any papers/articles/etc. that may have been written on this subject. I am also wondering (following unsuccessful googling) whether anyone has ever tested the ability of humans to quickly discern photos of real injuries from photos of fake injuries when they haven't been told which are which. So if anyone has any references along these lines, please feel free to share...anecdata would also be of interest to me, but primarily I'm looking for the science behind the phenomenon. Thanks!