This year's Scariest People research was temporarily hamstrung by the sudden outbreak among OC Weekly DataLab staffers of Foa's Syndrome—sometimes called Exposure Syndrome (ES) or Suppressed Stimulus Response Disorder (SSRD). Sufferers—"Foatics"—find that repeated exposure to a frightening stimulus gradually extinguishes the fear response (Foa and Kozar, 1956). In this case, staff researchers working on this, the third annual Scariest People list, found ordinarily terrifying stimuli decreasingly frightening; as Foatics, staff were unable to discern Truly Scary stimuli (TS) from even Moderately Annoying stimuli (MA). One group of six researchers found themselves so desensitized to naturally phobic personality stimuli that even graphic instances of TS (e.g., audiotapes of a speech by Gloria Matta Tuchman acknowledging that she works intentionally to achieve that pumpkin-colored hue in her hair) were no more frightening than such MA as an empty toilet-paper dispenser.
Stern Publishing recruited—at great expense—Oxford University's Dr. Raymond Keene, whose 1988 study "Foatic Inurement and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange" brought Foa's Syndrome new attention in academic, clinical and even mainstream broadcast circles in the late 1980s. In his research and writing, Keene had used Foa and Kozar to argue persuasively that repeated exposure to violence would not produce in subjects nonviolent behavior patterns (as proposed by Burgess) but would in fact cultivate in subjects something like Hannah Arendt's sense (or "non-sense," as Keene called it) of the "banality of evil." Keene acted quickly, ordering the DataLab staff to halt all research into Orange County's Scariest People and to consider this and this alone: Was it not horrifying that they were no longer horrified? The entire procedure—which has come to be called Keening—was accomplished in the course of a single conference call; its result was immediate. "Keening's effect is to short-circuit the Foatic loop, to leapfrog up the anxiety hierarchy," Keene said. "I turned the Foatic response against itself, helping the subjects find horror in the absence of horror." Relieved, the DataLab staff returned to work with a new and heightened sense of absolute terror.