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News from the Lab: October 2021

A Halloween season update from the lab

With Halloween on the horizon and fall crispness in the air, the Recreational Fear Lab is busy with this season’s haunted house research. Most weekends in October, we fill several cars with research assistants and equipment and travel to Dystopia Haunted House – Denmark’s scariest haunt – in Vejle, south of Aarhus, to collect data for a new and very cool collaborative project with Micah Allen and Nicolas Legrand of the Visceral Minds group/Embodied Computation Group at Aarhus University. The project is an investigation of interoception and fear response among those brave souls who visit the haunted attraction for 45 minutes of delightful terror.


Recreational Fear Lab mobile research unit outside of Dystopia Haunted House, Vejle, Denmark.

Also this fall, lab members Mihaela Taranu and Mathias Clasen are teaching a BA project elective called “Recreational Fear: Scientific, Historical, and Aesthetic Perspectives,” with full enrollment and exciting and stimulating discussions about the nature, history, and implications of recreational fear. Students in this course are also involved as research assistants in our haunted house research project so that they get a tangible sense of empirical recreational fear research and are directly involved in the creation of new knowledge.


Research assistants at Dystopia Haunted House (left to right: Mathilde Brogaard Pedersen, Sofie Thinggaard, Rikke Laursen, Loc-An Nguyen, and Karoline Winther Andersen).

Earlier this year, in August, the lab organized the First Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear (“When Fear Is Fun 2021”), which was a huge success, with a cornucopia of international speakers and a large and interested audience. The talks ranged from the science of fear learning, the use of interactive horror media in fear research, and predictive processing accounts of recreational fear to children’s horror movies, the affective dimensions of horror, and recreational fear in Danish daycare institutions. The workshop received a lovely and informative write-up in The Psychologist, "The Sweet Spot of Fear," and we’re already looking forward to the next annual workshop.


RFL HQ snapshot from the First Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear, August 2021. (Left to right: Marc Malmdorf Andersen, Emilie Schjoldager, Mihaela Taranu, Lauritz Holm-Petersen, and Mathias Clasen.)

In the spring of 2021, we were fortunate to host two brilliant research interns, Emilie Schjoldager and Lauritz Holm-Petersen, who joined us to study the nature and frequency of recreational fear activities in Danish daycare institutions. The results of that study will be published next year, but we have already seen significant interest in the findings. Lab members Marc Malmdorf Andersen and Mathias Clasen were invited to present the findings to the Danish Media Council for Children and Young People (the council responsible for film classification in Denmark) and to the children’s media editorial department at the Danish National Broadcasting Corporation (DR). Later this year, we will be presenting this work to the section of DR that produces content for children and young people.


Guests in Dystopia Haunted House caught on scare cam.

Evidently, there is widespread interest in research on children and young people’s engagement with recreational fear. We know that children and young people are drawn to scary media and other forms of recreational fear, but we know little about the psychological and social effects of such activities. There is reason to believe, however, that recreational fear may have beneficial effects on children by allowing them to learn about fear and emotion regulation strategies. We are currently designing new studies to investigate this.


Museum exhibition on fear and monsters, with displays featuring RFL research.

Finally, we have been involved in various outreach activities, including a variety of public lectures and scientific consultancy for a Danish museum, Museum of Supply and Sustainability, for an exhibition on fear and monsters. Moreover, lab director Mathias Clasen’s new book, A Very Nervous Person’s Guide to Horror Movies, came out on October 1 and presents some of the lab’s recent work. Similarly, he appeared on the Data Science Mixer podcast, “Getting Scared for Science with Spooky Phenomena,” to discuss the lab’s recent work.


From a recent public lecture on recreational fear research.

With these various activities, it’s truly Halloween season for the lab. In that spirit, we are working on several new spooky-fun research projects. Stay tuned for updates, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.