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News from the Lab: Fall Equinox 2022 Round-Up

What's new from the lab, now that Halloween is on the horizon?

APEX of Fear
Our new VR lab
Lab member Mihaela Taranu presenting at the Second Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear
Showcasing APEX of Fear tech at Copenhell Con
Visit from lab friends and collaborators Helen Dodd, Lily FitzGibbon, Shannon Wake, and Rachel Nesbit
Workshop in the lab
RFL road trip to Copenhell Con

With fall equinox in the rearview mirror and Halloween on the horizon, we’re looking ahead to the spookiest and most fun time of the year here at the Recreational Fear Lab. It seems like a good time to take stock of the year so far.

2022 has been a great year for the Lab. We got generous funding from the Danish Innovation Fund to launch our new project APEX of Fear, which allowed us to attract a very talented young researcher: Thomas Terkildsen, who has swiftly become a highly valued member of the Lab. Thomas is a man of many talents. Not only is he developing the tech for APEX of Fear (in collaboration with Dr. Diogo Rato from Portugal, who has been hired to work on APEX through 2022), he also designed the Lab’s new logo and is lead developer on the LGBTQ+ VR Museum, which won a New Voices award at Tribeca Festival 2022.  

We also got a new physical space for the lab, thanks to the APEX of Fear grant. We have a cinema setup where we can show horror movies or have participants play scary video games while we collect physiological data (heart rate, skin conductance, skin temperature), data on respiration and muscle activity, behavioral data, and so on. We have a VR lab where we can playtest prototypes for APEX. And it all looks awesome, thanks to the tireless efforts of our awesome interns.

On 14 June, 2022, we held the Second Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear, which was a huge success. It was even bigger, better, and bloodier than the First AAWRF (partly because this time, we were able to hold the workshop on campus, but with lots of people – presenters and participants – zooming in). We had presentations on recreational fear among Danish children and young adults, on creepiness and scary supernatural creatures, on misconceptions about horror fans, on fright tourism, on apocalyptic stories, on horror video games, and on physiology among haunted house visitors. We’re really looking forward to next year’s workshop!

We’ve also done a lot of outreach, not least as part of the APEX of Fear project. The most rock n’ roll thing we’ve done this year – well, ever – was to showcase some of our gear at Copenhell Con. That was a blast, and we hope to come back in the future to discuss the science of recreational fear with horror hounds and metalheads.

We’ve also published two research papers so far, with several others in the pipeline. One paper is about recreational fear in Danish daycare institutions (tl;dr: Danish daycare teachers scare the kids A LOT), and the other one is about what three different kinds of horror fans get out of recreational horror (tl;dr: adrenaline junkies get a kick and a mood boost, but white knucklers and dark copers feel they learn something important about themselves).

A high point of the year was when the Lab was visited by friends and collaborators from the UK, namely Prof. Helen Dodd, Dr. Lily FitzGibbon, Dr. Shannon Wake, and Dr. Rachel Nesbit. Our friends were here to see the lab, discuss an upcoming collaboration, and visit our partners at Dystopia Haunted House in Vejle, where Jonas “Architect of Fear” Bøgh gave us a frightfully fun tour of the premises. We’re very excited to begin this collaboration with our UK friends! Stay tuned for updates.

We’ve also made many new friends this year. People are getting in touch with us from around the world, sharing our fascination with the phenomenon and science of recreational fear, and we’ve had wonderful lab presentations from folks such as Gary Cross, a historian with an interest in the creepy; Cecilia Abate, a horror scholar and data analyst; Will Harrison, a vision scientist and horror movie buff; Kaneez Fatima, a cognitive psychologist with an interest in the intervention potential of recreational fear, and David Norris, who is doing a PhD on live horror performance such as scare attractions. Wonderful to make new friends!

It’s now time for Halloween season, which traditionally is the busiest time of the year for the lab. We’re gearing up for some exciting haunted house research, preparing for a bunch of lab studies, and trying to take a moment to savor the dwindling daylight while enjoying the many frights of the long Nordic nights.