Analyzing Chuck: Can Images Strike Fear?

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If you tuned into Chuck last night, not only would you finally see Chuck and his mom Linda Hamilton together, you would have realized that the mad scientist that was wreaking havoc on this episode was none other than Robert Englund, aka the original Freddy Krueger.

While Englund looks like he could be someone’s nice old grandfather, in the episode he released a nasty biological agent that caused Sarah and Chuck to see their worst fears. His powerful concoction was only outdone by Lester and Jeff’s Aisle of Terror, which displayed “images that can cause terror in even the most fearless lunatics,” as Lester explained. (My personal favorite: It’s a toss-up between interspecies relationships or babies in costume. To quote Jeff: “Is it a baby or is it a snail? I don’t know.”)

Lester and Jeff claimed they got their pictures from a UCLA study on images that Jeff had participated in where he got paid $30 and a sandwich. (Preposterous! They never gave any free food in any of the psych department studies I participated in!) A quick Google search couldn’t find the named study (but we didn’t try that hard), so we’re wondering is there really an image out there that can make you paralyzed with fear?

Professor of Communications and Psychology Brad Bushman at Ohio State University isn’t sure of the specific picture, but he says pictures or even words can make us do strange things. “Images that are presented even subliminally can influence people’s behavior,” Bushman said. For example, people who see pictures of water tend to want to drink more, and individuals who view images of old people will want to walk slower.

“It’s not so far-fetched,” he explained. “I don’t know if it brings back memories from the past, but if you know for sure that some kind of image would be frightening to some person, that image could affect them.”

Some studies he’s worked on involve showing test subjects words and seeing what reactions they cause. The words “heat,” “gun,” or “knife” created aggression when shown subliminally or supraliminally (hidden or point-blank). The same experiment with images of those words revealed similar results.

“We even did one study on narcissists,” he elaborated. “Narcissistic people think they’re really special, and they think their time is more valuable than other people. In one study, we exposed people to narcissistic words like special and deserving. After, we told them they could pick up their extra credit card down the hall (and asked them questions about it). People who saw words like deserving and special thought the experiment was waste of their time and thought it took longer than it did. When they left the experiment, they actually walked faster. Those words can make you think that your time is more precious than for other people. These were just normal people.”

Score one point for Chuck, they were right seeing images or words can create some strange reactions. Although, we’re still skeptical that a picture of a baby in a snail costume can make you shudder in fear…

More on Techland:

Chuck Triumphs Over Undercovers, Gets 24 Episode Season

Analyzing Chuck: Is There Really A Drugged Out Way To Fake Your Death?

Analyzing Chuck: Do Messages Get Across When You Hear It While Sleeping?

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