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When Fear is Fun 2022

Second Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear (14 June 2022)


Fear is a scientifically well-understood emotion that evolved to allow organisms to swiftly mobilize resources in times of need. Indeed, it is well-documented that organisms universally respond with fight, flight or freeze behavior when faced with actual or potentially dangerous situations. What is much less well understood is how fear becomes the engine in pleasurable activities—what could be termed “recreational fear.” Fear-seeking activities range from mildly scary children’s activities, such as playfully being chased by a parent or caregiver, to full-blown horror media, such as horror films and haunted attractions. Such media entertainment is both culturally pervasive and exceedingly popular. Recreational fear, in other words, is a widespread phenomenon that requires empirical investigation in its developmental, psychological, social, cultural and biological dimensions.

This Second Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines and countries to provide a forum for dialogue about the state and future of recreational fear research.

The event will be hybrid. Some of the speakers will attend the conference online via Zoom. The event is open to all, and participants can attend physically (venue at Aarhus University: Richard Mortensen-stuen, Bldg. 1422, Fredrik Nielsens Vej 2, 8000 Aarhus C) or via Zoom.

Participation is free, but registration is required. Please register HERE - registration deadline is June 12, 2022, at 5pm CET.

Organisational team

Mathias Clasen 


Mihaela Taranu


Marc Malmdorf Andersen



See the Registration below

Program (Central European Time Zone: CET)

Time Presentation       Speaker
10:00-10:15 Welcome Recreational Fear Lab

Three Misconceptions about Horror Fans

Coltan Scrivner

Why Some People Are More Likely to Have Paranormal Experiences

Francis McAndrew

‘Half the People on the Picture Are Scared and the Other Half Are Laughing!’: The Fun of Fear at Tourist Attractions

Susan Weidmann



Engagement with Recreational Fear Activities among 1-17-Year-Old Danish Children

Mihaela Taranu

*Cancelled* Teaching Death

Asser Thomsen
14:35-15:15 Drawn to the Storm: On the Appeal and Persistence of Collective Endtime Narratives Lauritz Holm Petersen
15:15-16:00 BREAK

Measuring Recreational Fear in the Lab

Thomas Terkildsen

More than Witnesses to Horror

Teresa Lynch

Friends and Fear: Physiology During a Haunted House 

Sarah Tashjian
17:50-18:00 Concluding remarks

List of Speakers

Coltan Scrivner

Coltan Scrivner is an author, behavioral scientist, and research fellow at the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University

Frank McAndrew

Frank McAndrew is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College. He is an elected Fellow of many professional societies, including the Association for Psychological Science.  He is an evolutionary social psychologist who is currently studying creepiness, gossip, and aggression.

Susan Weidmann

Susan Weidmann is an Assistant Professor in the department of Recreation Management and Physical Education at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina (USA). She teaches recreation, tourism and marketing topics, and her research focuses on the intersections of immersive horror leisure, tourism experiences, and emotions. She holds a PhD in Tourism from the University of Otago in New Zealand and an MSc in Ecotourism from the University of Portsmouth in England.

Mihaela Taranu

Mihaela Taranu is psychologist, generally interested in life-span development of cognition and emotion. Currently she is postdoc in the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University where she is conducting research on recreational fear across development. Previously she has been a postdoc at the Interacting Minds center in the Playtrack group doing research on creativity and play. 

Asser Thomsen

Asser H. Thomsen, MD, specialist in Forensic Medicine, PhD. Department of Forensic Medicine, Aarhus University

Thomas Terkildsen

Thomas Terkildsen, Msc.Psych, is an experienced user researcher, who has specialized in affective computing and physiological measurement of emotions. His main research interest is in the measurement of emotions, such as fear, and presence in games using psychophysiology.

Lauritz Holm Petersen

Lauritz Holm Petersen is a PhD.-student at the Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, with a background in the study of religion and cognitive semiotics. In his academic work, he focuses mainly on biocultural perspectives on apocalyptic beliefs, with an emphasis on contemporary online subcultures and digital methods.

Teresa Lynch

Teresa Lynch (PhD, Indiana University) is an Assistant Professor of Communication Technology in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University (USA) and Director of Chronos Laboratory. Dr. Lynch’s research broadly concerns emotion in video games and how these digital environments convey social information that influences emotion, cognition, and behavior.

Sarah Tashjian

Dr. Sarah Tashjian earned her PhD in 2020 from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her work at UCLA largely focused on how reward neural circuitry buffers various forms of threat from adolescence to adulthood. As a postdoctoral scholar at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Dr. Tashjian is examining how context shifts physiological and neurobiological responses to threat. Her aim is to identify pathways through which threat buffering generates risk and resilience during development.   


Three Misconceptions about Horror Fans (CET 10:15-10:55)

Coltan Scrivner 

Horror tends to be a controversial and polarizing genre. As a result, horror fans are perhaps one of the most misunderstood groups of people. In this talk, I will provide evidence against the ideas that horror fans are 1) simply thrill-seekers, 2) less anxious than the average person, and 3) low in empathy.  

Why Some People Are More Likely to Have Paranormal Experiences (CET 10.55-11:35)

Frank T. McAndrew

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and visiting places thought to be haunted by ghosts is a popular recreational fear experience. A belief in ghosts is an apparently universal human propensity, and ghosts seem to visit people at predictable times and in predictable places. But why are some individuals more likely than others to experience them? This talk will explore the role played by personality, cognitive style, religion, and a belief in the paranormal in the triggering of ghostly encounters. I will also examine how the collision between predispositions shaped by evolution and situational factors such as stress, social isolation, and architecture produces bone-chilling paranormal experiences in people with just the right mix of personal qualities.

‘Half the People on the Picture Are Scared and the Other Half Are Laughing!’: The Fun of Fear at Tourist Attractions (CET 11:35-12:15)

Susan Weidmann 

Dark tourism engages tourists with sites of, or related to death, disaster, and the macabre and is increasing in global popularity. As a subset of dark tourism, attractions that allow tourists to satisfy their interest in frightful experiences, based on either historical or fictional events, are referred to as ‘fright’ tourism, ‘light-dark’ tourism, and ‘gothic’ tourism. While this niche of tourism is underrepresented in the academic literature, it is an estimated $7 billion USD industry worldwide. This talk introduces the study of fright tourism, details some of my previous research in the area, and suggests/solicits ideas for expansion.

Engagement with Recreational Fear Activities among 1-17-Year-Old Danish Children (CET 13:15-13:55)

Mihaela Taranu

Recreational fear activities (i.e., seeking frightening experiences in pursuit of enjoyment) are very poorly understood in children and young adults. For instance, it is unknown at which ages children like to engage across several types of recreational fear activities, how often, with whom and where they engage in recreational fear activities. This talk will present a survey study that seeks to understand these questions from the perspective of the parents. We will present the structure of the survey and preliminary results of our freshly baked study, the first of its kind.

Teaching Death (CET 13:55-14:35)

Asser H. Thomsen

Working in Forensic Medicine, death is a constant companion. Not working in Forensic Medicine, death is still a constant companion, but it’s usually hidden. I teach about death to people that are used to working with death and those who are not. Often, their expectations and questions are the same. Sometimes they faint, but not always.

Drawn to the Storm: On the Appeal and Persistence of Collective Endtime Narratives (CET 14:35-15:15)

Lauritz Holm Petersen

Throughout history, humans have been fundamentally preoccupied with their own future demise, whether on a societal, global, or cosmic scale. The result of this preoccupation is myriads of dramatic ‘endtime’ narratives across cultures that to this day continue to both fascinate and frighten us. In this talk, I will present some initial thoughts on a multilevel theoretical model that aims to explain and unfold the appeal (cognitive) and remarkable persistence (cultural) of collective endtime narratives.

Measuring Recreational Fear in the Lab (CET 16:00-16:40)

Thomas Terkildsen

An introduction to psychophysiological measurement of (recreational) fear, affective player modeling, the APEX of Fear project, and the Recreational Fear Lab's new facilities. NB: This interactive session takes place in bldg. 1914, room 222, and will also be streamed to online participants.

More than Witnesses to Horror (CET 16:40-17:10)

Teresa Lynch

Motivation for content selection represents a considerable area of entertainment media scholarship, yet less study exists advancing understanding of horror selection and, especially, horror video game selection. This talk will share the results of studies that have investigated some of the characteristics of video game presentations and player elaborations of their experiences with horror games and other intersecting genres. Perspectives framing this work derive from theories of emotion, social identity, schema, and social cognition.

Friends and Fear: Physiology During a Haunted House (CET 17:10-17:50)

Sarah Tashjian

Threat exposure elicits physiological responses important for survival. Ethical limitations on human laboratory fear inductions make it difficult to assess responses to extreme threat. I will present results from a study that measured tonic and phasic electrodermal activity in 156 humans while they participated in a 30-minute haunted house. Data point to friend-related emotional contagion, subjective-objective emotional concordance, and threat predictability as important contributors to mounting electrodermal responses to threat.  

To register for this event, please follow the following link and complete the information required. 

Deadline registration: June 12, 2022, 5pm CET. 

The workshop is hybrid and will be hosted on Zoom as well as physically at Aarhus University (Denmark). Venue: Richard Mortensen-stuen, Bldg. 1422, Fredrik Nielsens Vej 2, 8000 Aarhus C.

Login details will be sent on June 13 to all those registered.


The workshop is organized by the Recreational Fear Lab in collaboration with the Research Program for Media, Communication and Society, Aarhus University, and with generous funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (grant no. 0132-00204B) and the U.S. Embassy & Consulate in the Kingdom of Denmark.