Why Halloween makes us scream The CN Tower's EdgeWalk in Toronto, seen in this photo, is one of the many experiences Margee Kerr features in her book "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear." (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/ Darren Calabrese/Scarehouse )
Why Halloween makes us scream
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Margee Kerr says she has the best job in the world. She studies fear for a living.  She loves to scare herself. It is part of her research.
 
Kerr is a sociologist from the University of Pittsburgh. And just in time for Halloween, she's written a book. It's called "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear."
 
The book documents Kerr's adventures around the world. She has experienced extreme attractions. They range from the tallest roller coasters in Japan to the CN Tower's EdgeWalk in Toronto. The EdgeWalk is where participants are tethered to the skyscraper for an outdoor walk.  Only it's 116 stories off the ground!
 
Kerr also works at an attraction in Pittsburgh. It's called ScareHouse. She analyzes customer responses to help keep the fright levels just right.
 
"We're trying to scare people in a way that's going to make them feel good," she said.
 
Kerr is interested in the notion that society usually regards "fear as a negative force. But there's another side to fear. (It's) fun and fulfilling."  That's the sweet spot sought by recreational activities, she said.  Whether it's skydiving or zip lining. Or roller coasters. Or even so-called haunted houses.
 
"When we know we're not really in any physical danger, we can enjoy the endorphins and the dopamine. That response is similar to being really excited and happy," she said.
 
Her quest for the "Scream" book took her on many adventures. She traveled across the world. She was "doing as many scary and thrilling things as I could. I look at it from the cultural perspective, the physiological perspective. And the psychological perspective. Why do we engage with this type of material? Part of it is the natural high we get."  That comes from activating our flight-or-fight response in a safe environment.
 
Kerr says the trick is to figure out what types of situations "trigger our flight or fight response. What are people afraid of? What's going to tap into the fear?"
 
For example, "we know from science that seeing the whites of people's eyes will activate the amygdala."  That is the emotional processing center of our brain. That intense response to another being's eyes explains why scary attractions often have "dolls with big eyes or animatronics with wide-open eyes." Startling sounds, fast-moving props and other sudden visual effects also trigger instinctive responses. They increase the fear factor. But they do it without putting people in real danger.
 
She added that part of the draw for an extreme adventure or attraction is that "you are testing your own resilience. When you come out the other side of a scary movie or haunted house, you have accomplished something. You've tested your will. Even though we know nothing will hurt us, the self-esteem boost is real."
 
As for her own responses, she found the CN Tower EdgeWalk to be "way more terrifying than I thought it would be." Skydiving, on the other hand, was pure pleasure for Kerr.
 
Kerr says her research can have implications beyond theme parks and haunted houses. It can help people understand how to tolerate stress.
 
"We're trying to find the best ways to teach people how to experience their emotions in ways that are healthy and not debilitating," she said. "When people lean into the experience and test themselves in an environment that is safe, they come to learn they can handle stress. And they are stronger than they thought they were."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can fear be fun?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (33)
  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    10/22/2015 - 08:41 p.m.

    I think this is cool because I did not know that people can have fun without being scared. It is cool because now people can have a more complex knowledge of how fear works. I never knew that looking at the whites of people's eyes would trigger the amygdala. It is amazing for people to know this.
    How can fear be fun?
    Answer: Fear can be fun by proving to yourself that you can handle it.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    10/22/2015 - 09:13 p.m.

    I think that this article might be an example for people who are scared of something because I think that if people do something that is terrifying them, it will start to make the people to have fun. I think that something terrifying might turn out to become fun for the people who are scared of something.

  • brandtn1-kot
    10/23/2015 - 01:37 p.m.

    It can help you tolerate stress and thinking about the fear it can be fun by haveing a scream once and a while and its also a one and a life time experions.

  • isaacm-kot
    10/23/2015 - 02:07 p.m.

    Fear can be fun by being with your friends or doing it to other people.

  • kaleeh1-kot
    10/23/2015 - 02:09 p.m.

    Fear can be fun because you can laugh at the moments that people get scared but you don't. Also if something doesn't really scare you but you jump some people will laugh at that.

  • wills-kot
    10/23/2015 - 02:15 p.m.

    Fear can be fun by seeing what and how they are when they get scared.

  • briannab-kot
    10/23/2015 - 02:39 p.m.

    Fear can be fun because when you overcome that fear by doing it, you are not scared anymore. You think it wasn't that bad.

  • toonc-kot
    10/23/2015 - 02:40 p.m.

    I don't think I would walk on the edge of the thing she was walking on.

  • gwens-kot
    10/23/2015 - 02:42 p.m.

    Fear can be fun in many ways, such as much as a haunted house to roller coasters. Once you over come your fear you'll realise how much fun something is.

  • veronikav-ver
    10/27/2015 - 07:59 a.m.

    This article is about a woman named Kerr, and she likes to be scared. She wrote a book that is named "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear". She think that scary things make the stress go away.

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