We all have a different definition of a scary situation. For me, it’s the moment I wake up from a terrible nightmare — being on the cusp between that chillingly realistic dream state and reality. For another individual it might be watching a horror film or even the anxiety of preparing to speak in public.

Scientists recently found a way of decreasing adverse psychological responses to scary situations — and an exceedingly simple way, at that.

How to stay calm in scary situations

A new study published in the Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science revealed that the key to staying calm in a scary situation is the mere presence of another person.

For their experiment, researchers in Germany had female participants listen to “aversive sounds” (frightening human cries) and neutral sounds (water splashing). The women had headphones on and their responses were measured through their skin resistance. Past research has illustrated the change of electrical conductivity in a person’s skin when they’re scared or anxious.

The results showed that simply being in a room with another person reduces psychological tension during aversive events, even if the other person isn’t even providing support.

The current study placed people of the same ethnicity and different ethnicities next to each other in the room to see if another person’s presence would affect fear response. The participants weren’t allowed to speak, just stand nearby one another.

The results showed that simply being in a room with another person reduces psychological tension during aversive events, even if the other person isn’t even providing support.

Moreover, the researchers found that the soothing effect was stronger if the frightened participant perceived the person next to them as dissimilar to themselves (in this case, of a different ethnicity). This could be because when someone is perceived as different than us, we assume that they’re not as scared as we are, which has a calming effect.

Conclusions on quelling fear-based anxiety

Because this study was conducted only on women, further research must be done with both men and women to see if the results remain the same.

However, these initial results indicate the power of human presence in reducing adverse autonomic responses. The conclusion? Perhaps it’s best not to watch horror films alone if they terrify you. Unless you’re a masochist, that is.

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