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The Recreational Fear Lab is currently interested in the following research questions:

  • What is recreational fear, and what can it be used for?
  • What characterizes engagement with recreational fear across the lifespan?
  • What psychological and physiological characteristics are associated with recreational fear?
  • What benefits may be associated with recreational fear?
    • Can engagement in recreational fear activities lead to increased psychological resilience and even act as a protective influence against the development of anxiety disorder? In other words, is recreational fear good for one's mental health?
    • Can the acute mobilization of the adrenergic system associated with recreational fear lead to a healthy activation of the immune system with subsequent resolution of unhealthy inflammatory responses? In other words, is recreational fear good for one's physical health?

We approach these research questions from different angles, using a range of empirical methods including surveys, experimental lab designs, and data collection in naturalistic settings (such as commercial haunted houses). See, for example, our Psychological Science article "Playing with Fear: A Field Study in Recreational Horror" (Andersen et al., 2020).

You can also learn more about our work in a special episode of the podcast StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson called "The Science of Scary" and in an episode of the Alteryx podcast called "Getting Scared for Science with Spooky Phenomena." Also, you can learn more about our work with recreational fear and children in a blogpost by lab co-director Marc Malmdorf Andersen called "Scaring Children - Done Correctly - Can Be An Important Route to Learning." Finally, the short BBC Reel documentary "What Lies Beneath Our Attraction to Fear?" features lab co-director Mathias Clasen talking about the lab's work.

The lab’s main research project in the period 2020-2023 was “When Fear is Fun: An Empirical Investigation of Recreational Fear,” which was funded (DKK 2.9M) by the Independent Research Fund Denmark. We were also in 2022 hosting a one-year DKK 1.5M InnoExplorer project called "Affective Player Experience of Fear (APEX of Fear): Enhancing User Experience of Horror through Affective Computing." The project was about harnessing the power of virtual reality, machine learning, and psychophysiological measures for fear and enjoyment to create the horror experience of the future. You can read more about the project here.

The aim of our research is to shed light on a paradoxical, pervasive, and peculiarly understudied phenomenon. Hopefully, we will in time know much more about why people like to play with fear, and about the effects such play may have on us.