sealPurdue Science Briefs

February 1999

Purdue study finds physical jitters give away fear

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A copy of the study "The Repressive Coping Style and Fright Reactions to Mass Media" is available from Glenn Sparks at (765) 494-3316, e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Who's afraid? Check your pulse before you say.

In a study of reactions to a scary movie, Purdue University communication researchers found that some people will tell you that they were not frightened, but physical measures indicate otherwise. Communication Professor Glenn Sparks says the people who reported some of the lowest levels of fear may have been the most frightened.

Those persons most likely to give a conflicting report are what researchers call "repressive copers." They repress negative emotions as a way of dealing with unpleasant circumstances.

In the study, 59 students were individually shown segments of the suspense movie "When a Stranger Calls." Their physical arousal was recorded at specific intervals by body sensors monitored by a computer. Afterwards, students were asked to rate their fear on a scale of 0 to 9. Previous psychological tests indicated that 30 of the students were repressors, and 29 were non-repressors.

The study revealed that repressors were likely to rate their level of fear during the film as low, but the physical measures for them were 2 to 3 times greater than those of non-repressors.

"It could be that because they successfully repress emotions, these persons are not aware of their true reactions," Sparks says. "It's also possible that repressors are aware of their negative emotional reactions but simply choose to deny them to others."

Although this study looked at young adults, Sparks says some children may use the same coping method. He says parents often are advised to talk with their children about frightening situations on television or in movies. "If a child uses the repressive coping style, then just talking to him might not reveal his true emotional reaction," Sparks says.

Sparks suggests that if children view suspenseful programs and movies, then parents should watch with them and gauge their children's fear based on physical reactions. "If the child says he's fine, but looks scared, then you probably ought to find something else for him to watch," he says.

The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Communication Research.

CONTACT: Sparks, (765) 494-3316; e-mail,

Lilly Endowment invests in computer security initiative

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A $4.9 million grant to Purdue University's new information security center may help boost efforts to safeguard the valuable information that flows through computers throughout the world.

The three-year grant, from the Lilly Endowment Inc., will fund operating costs and several new initiatives for Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS, pronounced "serious"), the world's first comprehensive information security center, says Eugene Spafford, professor of computer science and director of the center.

"We were attracted to CERIAS because of its potential to create professional, high-tech economic opportunities in Indiana," says N. Clay Robbins, president of the Lilly Endowment.

CERIAS was designed to address issues related to information security from numerous perspectives, including economic and international espionage, sabotage, terrorism and vandalism. Founded in 1998, the center focuses on finding ways to protect valuable information in all its various forms as it flows through computers -- whether on network cable, disks, faxes or a phone call.

"Information assurance and security include a wide range of important issues," Spafford says. "Network security, communications security, policy development, disaster recovery, investigation of computer crime, employee training and supervision, and protection against defective software all must be addressed.

"The protection of information is a major concern as it relates to national defense, commerce and even our private lives. It also is a business with enormous growth potential. On-line commerce in the United States is predicted to exceed $15 billion annually by the year 2000, and there is a critical shortage of sound technology and well-trained analysts in this field."

Although closely associated with Purdue's Department of Computer Sciences, CERIAS also involves faculty working in areas such as electrical and computer engineering, sociology, criminology, political science, linguistics, ethics, management and economics.

The funding from Lilly will help the center move forward in extending its scientific research and education efforts, Spafford says. The center works with researchers in industry, government and other academic institutions around the world and provides educational opportunities for both its internal and external audiences.

CONTACTS: Spafford, (765) 494-7825; e-mail,; Andra Short, CERIAS manager of external relations, (765) 494-7806; e-mail,

Compiled by Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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