Do you cover your eyes when you see gore on TV? Do your friends make fun of you for being a big ‘fraidy cat when you watch horror movies? Good news, it’s not your fault that you’re a wimp — it’s in your genes.
Scientists in Germany have recently discovered that variations in the COMT gene in women can be the reason why some of us flinch at the sight of violence while others can find the entertainment value in it. The study, done at the University of Bonn, centered around the all-important COMT gene, which weakens the effect of the signaling chemical, dopamine, to the brain when emotions are involved. The women, who all had variations of the COMT gene, were shown a series of pictures that ranged from pleasant (babies, kittens) to neutral (pictures of hair dryers) to unpleasant (crime scenes photos).
The women’s responses to the pictures ranged according to the make-up of their COMT genes. In short, some women are genetically predisposed to deal with stress — and gross stuff — better than others.
I don’t know about my COMT gene, but I can’t bear to see violence in real life or in the movies. In fact, two years ago, I went to see a special preview of the Thora Birch flick Dark Corners and my COMT gene and I had the bejeezus scared out of us. I liked Thora so in the un-scary Ghost World with Scarlett Johansson, so I figured Dark Corners would be a lot of fun. Wrong. Do the words “psychological thriller” instill trepidation in you? They do me. I admit it: I’m a wimp. And, my sensitive COMT gene and I paid dearly for it in the theatre that night.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I need to tell you the following so you will understand my experience. Thora plays two characters: a troubled dark-haired goth chick who works in a funeral home and a blonde suburban housewife. Dark-haired goth Thora always finds herself in the middle of the most grotesque violence. Blond Thora’s visions of that violence are seriously messing up her odds with in-vitro fertilization.
Much to my friend’s amusement, I could only watch the scenes of the movie featuring blond Thora. Every time crazy dark-haired Thora came on the screen, I knew something disgusting and scary was about to happen. I did what any logical COMT gene-hindered women would do: I shoved my head inside my girlfriend’s arm pit, stuck my fingers in my ears and hummed loudly until she tapped me to indicate the scene was over.
To this day, I don’t understand what happened in Dark Corners. I only watched half of the movie! I’ve had countless experiences like that — like, the time I got so nauseated I had to walk to the back of the theater while watching Jodie Foster in the rape scene from The Accused. (I didn’t barf); or any scene from The Silence of The Lambs
. Am I lame for getting scared during Flightplan? A child was missing!
True story: when I was a kid, I hid behind a huge La-Z-Boy chair in my family’s living room when I watched that Brady Bunch episode where the Brady girls made the fake ghost to scare the boys out of the attic. Sure, they look sweet and innocent in this picture, but they made a ghost! And they rigged up the clothesline and flew him around the yard. It really was scary.
OK, I’m a mess. How about you? Do scary movies give you the creeps? Are you genetically sensitive? Or are you one of those freaks of nature who can sit unfazed through gory movies?