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When Fear is Fun 2023

Third Annual Aarhus Workshop on Recreational Fear (9 August 2023)


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

This year, we're proud to present a very special guest—our keynote speaker Mr. Joe Hill, author of such works as 20th Century Ghosts, Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, and Strange Weather. We can't wait to welcome Mr. Hill to Aarhus University and hear his thoughts on the art of horror! Mr. Hill will be joined by a stellar line-up of speakers; please see the program below.

The workshop will be hybrid, with an option for Zoom participation for folks who can't make it in person. The physical location for the workshop is Preben Hornungstuen at Aarhus University. A Zoom link will be sent to online participants.

There will be coffee/tea served during the day, but participants will have to buy lunch themselves.

Participation is free, but registration is required. Please register here - registration deadline is August 7, 2023, at midnight CET.

Organizational team

Mathias Clasen 


Marc Malmdorf Andersen


Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen


Find your way

Venue: Preben Hornungstuen, Building 1422, Fredrik Nielsens Vej 2, 8000 Aarhus C

Program (Central European Time Zone: CET)

Time Presentation       Speaker


Recreational Fear Lab

Living in Fear: The Art of Horror

Joe Hill

Lunch break


"And the Oscar for Best Score Goes to ... Not Horror?" The Characteristics, Purpose and Effect of the Horror Film Score, and Its Professional Recognition"

G. Neil Martin

Teaching Death

Asser Thomsen

Calm Down, It's Just a Monster: Using Game Technology to Teach Emotional Regulation Strategies

Lucie Daniel-Watanabe

Coffee break


Facing our Fears Onscreen and in Therapy

Jenny Hamilton

Horror Film Music Conveys at Least Two Subtypes of Fear

Caitlyn Trevor

Concluding remarks

Recreational Fear Lab

List of Speakers

Joe Hill

Joe Hill is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman, Heart-Shaped Box, and Strange Weather, and much of his work has been adapted for film and television. We simply love him at the RFL.

G. Neil Martin

Dr G Neil Martin is Honorary Professor of Psychology at Regent's University London, former Head of Department, consultant, and Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He recently published the first review of the empirical research on the psychological responses to horror film. He is the author of around 13 books and 150 papers on psychology and related subjects.

Asser Thomsen

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

Lucie Daniel-Watanabe

Lucie Daniel-Watanabe is a PhD student in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge researching how we can teach emotion regulation strategies using video game technology.

Jenny Hamilton

Jenny Hamilton is a Senior Lecturer in Counselling and Psychological Therapies at the University of Lincoln and a counsellor and mindfulness teacher in private practice. Jenny has developed methods in film therapy in her work as a therapist and an academic. She has explored the therapeutic possibilities of reflecting on monster imagery and the feelings monsters may represent.

Caitlyn Trevor

Caitlyn Trevor is a Teaching Fellow in Music at the University of Birmingham. She lectures on horror film music, music cognition, and music and emotion. She is a music cognition researcher investigating music and fear.


Living in Fear: The Art of Horror (CET 10:15-11:30)

Joe Hill


"And the Oscar for Best Score Goes to ... Not Horror?" The Characteristics, Purpose and Effect of the Horror Film Score, and Its Professional Recognition (CET 12.30-13:10)

G. Neil Martin

Is there evidence that horror film scores are less well-regarded than are scores from other genres? This talk reviews the nature and purpose of horror film scores in the context of the function of film scores generally, and evaluates whether one specific metric of professional recognition - the AMPAS award for best original score (Oscar) - reflects the anecdotal lack of recognition for horror. Six hundred and sixty four films not categorised as musicals have been nominated for the best score Oscar since 1935. 1.65% of these have been horror films and two have won. An analysis of Awards data suggests that horror may be less-well rewarded than other disciplines - a feature that scores share with horror films generally - but that it is not the least well-regarded. The talk considers how music supports or amplifies cinematic objectives, how film composers approach horror film composition, and whether there are features of horror film and horror film scores which distinguish them from other genres. Three hypotheses are explored: that horror scores are (i) more functional/pedestrian, (ii) more experimental and/or (iii) not considered to be conventional musical compositions.

Teaching Death (CET 13:15-13:55)

Asser 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.

Calm Down, It's Just a Monster: Using Game Technology to Teach Emotional Regulation Strategies (CET 14:00-14:40)

Lucie Daniel-Watanabe

Video games are fun. They are designed to be motivating, rewarding, and exciting. Learning to regulate your emotions, on the other hand, is frequently not fun. However, it can be an important component of managing various mental health conditions, such as anxiety. Our research explores whether we can combine video game technology and design with emotion regulation strategies, particularly physiological regulation, to make the experience of learning these strategies engaging and rewarding.

Facing our Fears Onscreen and in Therapy (CET 15:15-15:55)

Jenny Hamilton

This talk explores the image of the on-screen monster as symbolic of underlying fears and experience. Monsters in movies may provide an opportunity to face our fears and survive in an environment where the threat is not real. This talk considers the possibilities for therapeutic reflection on monsters in horror and science fiction films and examines their appeal for trauma survivors as a vessel for emotional processing. The talk considers how therapists might safely explore client’s relationship with on-screen monsters in therapy and how monster imagery may present an opportunity to process fear and make sense of psychological distress.

Horror Films Music Conveys at Least Two Subtypes of Fear (CET 16:00-16:40)

Caitlyn Trevor

In music and emotion research, fear is often used as a general category. However, research in both music theory and neuroscience suggests that fearful music should be divided into two subcategories: anxious and terrifying music. I investigated whether fearful music should indeed be divided thus by having participants rate the conveyed emotion of 240 short musical excerpts intended to convey terror, anxiety, happiness, and tenderness. The results highlight the importance of dividing fearful music into terror and anxiety, unveil the musical and acoustical differences between these two subcategories, and debuts FEARMUS: a new database of terrifying and anxious musical excerpts.

Poster designs by lab interns Antonina Jasztal and Dominika Męcina

The workshop is organized by the Recreational Fear Lab with generous funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (grant no. 0132-00204B) and the Schoool of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University.