Research conducted by University College London, and backed by the audiobook-seller Audible, has found stories, when told via audiobook, can be even more emotionally affecting than on film. That's right, listening to a horror story may well be even more terrifying than watching a horror film. And with that in mind, what are the best scary audiobooks, for that full-bodied emotional response?
But first, more on the science. Working with UCL's neuroscience department and Head of Experimental Psychology Dr Joseph Devlin — audible conducted a study set out to find whether a story was found to be more emotionally engaging when listened to on an audiobook, as opposed to watched on a screen. The study tested eight different stories: Game Of Thrones, Girl On The Train, Hound Of The Baskervilles, Silence Of The Lambs, Alien, Pride & Prejudice, Great Expectations and The Da Vinci Code — all of which are television shows or films adapted from books.
By sharing the story with the 102 participants in audiobook and video form, the researchers measured heart rate, body temperature and galvanic skin response (essentially, the skin's stress response) — to deduce what form the participants found the more emotionally stimulating. And audiobooks were found to be the one.
A key scene researchers measured the response to, is the now renowned beheading of Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, measuring how participants physically responded to the scene when listening to it via audiobook, as opposed to when they saw the scene on the HBO television show. Interestingly, people were more moved by the audiobook.
"The statistical evidence was very strong and consistent across all the different stories," the research stated. "With audiobooks producing a stronger emotional and physiological response than visual storytelling mediums." So if you're looking for a fully-fledged emotional response, what is more stimulating than horror? Try out some of the best scary audiobooks.
1. 'The Haunting Of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson
A spine-tingling story about the intoxicating power of fear, this is perhaps Shirley Jackson's most famous novel. Four different people arrive at a beguiling old house, all with different motivations, with each witnessing or experiencing some of the spooky goings-on in this mysterious mansion. The jump scares and complicated psychological underpinnings of the novel are all the scarier when being uttered directly into your ear.
2. 'It' by Stephen King
The book that spawned a generation of coulrophobes, this delightfully terrifying audiobook is renowned for being one of the scariest horrors ever written. Following the lives of a group of pre-teens self-dubbed "The Loser's Club", It follows the group as they are terrorised by Pennywise the clown, which seemingly preys on their darkest and most profound fears.
3. 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood
Anyone currently watching The Handmaid's Tale on Channel 4 will know just how horrifying Atwood's imagined patriarchal dystopia is. Set after a totalitarian theocratic state overthrows the US government, women's basic rights have been revoked. The country's remaining fertile women are used as "handmaids", forced to conceive and bear the children of powerful men. Atwood's text is haunting to read and even more impactful when listened to.
4. 'Let The Right One In' by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Let The Right One In is the eerie story of a relationship between a 12-year-old boy called Oskar and a centuries old vampire, in a suburb of Stockholm. This is an exceptionally dark, and often bleak story, exploring a number of unpleasant subjects, and is certainly not one for the faint of heart. The book was adapted into a BAFTA-nominated film-of-the-same-name in 2008.
5. 'Broken Monsters' by Lauren Beukes
Broken Monsters begins with seasoned detective Gabriella Versado finding the body of half a deer and half a woman fused together. But this is only the start, as more and more strange bodies begin showing up. And little does the detective know, his young daughter is conducting a strange flirtation with the potential killer online. A convoluted and thrilling tale.
6. 'The Collector' by John Fowles
The Collector is about an isolated and clerk who works at the town hall and collects butterflies as a hobby. He becomes fixated on a young female art student, and unable to make the distinction between collection butterflies and capturing a girl, kidnaps her and keeps her in his house. The story is told from his perspective, then hers, then back to his — and has a tendency to pull the rug from under you. And is very, very scary.
7. 'Interview With The Vampire' by Anne Rice
This cult horror novel begins as a 200-year-old vampire, Louis, tells his life story to a reporter known as "the boy". He recalls how he was first made as a vampire, how he first learned to survive, how he turned others into vampires, and the people who have tried to kill him along the way. Interview With The Vampire is certainly scary, but it is also filled with longing and pain.
So there you have it. Five roundly terrifying audiobooks that are doubtlessly spookier than any horror film. Now be sure to leave the big light on when you're listening.