A scary story
in which a storyteller
makes effective use of a dramatic pause
followed by a sudden, loud outburst
to get the audience to "jump
" out of their seats, thanks to the mammalian auditory startle reflex
--the human brain's auditory lobes, reflexively attuned to sudden changes in sound ("Boo!"
), triggers the amygdala
and circuits of the
to activate the startle. Our cochlear root neuron
s probably have something to do with it, too.
The story may be about ghosts, or vampires, or bloody corpses, but it's not necessary-- case in point, I've heard a Brazilian storyteller tell a "four jump" story-- his translator told us he would make us jump four times. And sure enough, though the story was about werewolves, he told it entirely in Portuguese, so we in the English speaking audience couldn't follow the plot directly. Nevertheless, even with advance warning, through his cunning use of eye contact, vocal effects, and the dramatic pause-- we jumped.
Classic American jump stories heard on the playground, around the campfire, and at slumber parties:
Want more? Check out Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (New York : Lippincott; New York : HarperTrophy, 1981)
--Clemens, Samuel, as Mark Twain. How
to Tell a Story and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897)
--Davis, Michael, "Neural Circuitry and Neurotransmitters That Mediate the Acoustic Startle Reflex," paper presented at 138th ASA Meeting, Acoustical Society of America, Columbus, Ohio, November 3, 1999; http://www.acoustics.org/press/138th/davis.htm
--Givens, David B. "Startle Reflex" in The Nonverbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs, and Body Language Cues, http://members.aol.com/doder1/startle1.htm
--Ramos, Roberto Carlos, "Storytelling as a Tool in the Education of Marginalized Children," translated by Livia de Almeida, National Storytelling Conference, University of San Diego, July 1999