describe — and indeed, the body does kick into “go” mode when you’re startled or scared, amping up not only adrenaline but a multitude of chemicals that ensure your body is fueled and ready to respond. This “fight or flight” response to threat has helped keep humans alive for millennia. That still doesn’t explain why people would want to intentionally scare themselves, though. As a sociologist, I’ve kept asking “But, why?” After two years collecting data in a haunted attraction with my colleague Greg Siegle, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, we’ve found the gains from thrills and chills can go further than the natural high. STUDYING FEAR AT A TERRIFYING ATTRACTION To capture in real time what makes fear fun, what motivates people to pay to
be scared out of their skin and what they experience when engaging with this material, we needed to gather data in the field. In this case, that meant setting up a mobile lab in the basement of an extreme haunted attraction outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This adults-only extreme attraction went beyond the typical startling lights and sounds and animated characters found in a family-friendly haunted house. Over the course of about 35 minutes, visitors experienced a series of intense scenarios where, in addition to unsettling characters and special effects, they were touched by the actors, restrained, and exposed to electricity. It was not for the faint of heart. For our study, we recruited 262 guests who had already purchased tickets. Before they entered the attraction, each completed a survey about their expectations and how they were feeling. We had them answer questions again about how they were feeling once they had gone through the attraction. We also used mobile EEG technology to compare 100 participants’ brainwave activity as they sat through 15 minutes of various cognitive and emotional tasks before and after the attraction.
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- Fall '19
- Horror and terror, Horror film, Slasher film