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Meet the Staff: Mathias Clasen, Lab Director

Mathias Clasen, director of Recreational Fear Lab, introduces the lab and its activities and explains his own fascination with recreational fear.

The Recreational Fear Lab is an old dream of mine, and I’m so happy to see that dream come true, thanks to generous funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark.

The dream goes back to my graduate days, when it became increasingly clear to me that there are many important questions about the horror genre that remain unanswered. It’s not that those questions can’t be answered, it’s just that nobody has tackled them empirically.

That’s what we’ll do in the Recreational Fear Lab. We have crack team with the right interdisciplinary qualifications for taking on some of the most fascinating questions about horror. When and why is fear fun? To whom is it fun? When does recreational fear stop being fun and turn into regular fear? What happens in the minds and bodies of people who engage in recreational fear activities?

Those are the kinds of questions we’ll be investigating, and we’ll do so using a range of methods – using focus group interviews, measuring physiological arousal in people who play horror video games, record behavior among visitors in a haunted house, to mention a few.

For me personally, my academic interest in recreational fear and horror grows out of personal fascination. I’ve always wondered about the paradoxical allure of scary stories, especially since I discovered the wonderful horror stories of authors like Dennis Jürgensen and Stephen King in my teenage years. Through a combination of stubbornness and luck I’ve been able to pursue that allure in my professional life. Having now assembled a team to probe that allure scientifically is incredibly gratifying, and I can’t wait for the results to start rolling in.

Our first project is an empirical investigation of morbid curiosity, led by our collaborator Coltan Scrivner who will be visiting the lab in October 2020 and staying with our friends at the Interacting Minds Center. The project will conducted in Dystopia Haunted House, a Danish scare attraction with which we have a long-standing and very fruitful collaboration. Stay tuned for more information about that study!