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
Lexile

Assign to Google Classroom

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."

Filed Under:  
Assigned 258 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can fear be fun?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (34)
  • aidene-jen
    10/28/2015 - 10:28 a.m.

    Fear can be fun by having so much of it you really don't feel it and you just let go and go crazy. That is my comment.

  • cameronc-nar
    10/28/2015 - 11:02 p.m.

    Fear can be fun by being scared when you know your not really in any physical danger.

  • dylans2-ree
    10/30/2015 - 08:08 a.m.

    Fear can be fun because,if you don't have fear you won't enjoy Halloween. Also it can be fun if you go into a hunted house with monsters, and Fear can be fun if you are scaring one of your friends.But if your friend does not have fear it won't be fun.Fear can be a good way to help with stress because it would show you you can handle stress.The paragrath states hunted house can help people with stress.

  • brockp-ree
    10/30/2015 - 08:10 a.m.

    How can fear be fun? Fear can be fun because it states in the book "That's the sweet spot sought by recreational activities" she said. What I think she means is fear is scary, but their is another part of fear is thrilling. I also think she means that fear

  • laurenm-ree
    10/30/2015 - 12:59 p.m.

    Fear can be lots of fun because you can look back at the time you were scared and laugh at it...Also you can get mad but thats funny! Fear can sometimes make you feel weird and make you have funny dfaces when you think something is near you and is going to pop out on you and scared the jibbers out of you.

    Fear is also fun when you look at someone being scared but your not scared of that scary human. Sometimes its not fun 20% of of the time. But that other 80% is so much funner then that 20%.

  • jacobm1-ree
    10/30/2015 - 01:05 p.m.

    fear can be fun because"fear as a negative force. But there's another side to fear. (It's) fun and fulfilling."another being's eyes explains why scary attractions often have "dolls with big eyes or animatronics with wide-open eyes." in conclusion scaring can be good.

  • blakeh-ree
    10/30/2015 - 01:06 p.m.

    According to the text fear can be fun to people because they like the fun in it. The text said people get scared when they look at the whites of a dolls eyes. When we know we not in danger it can be fun to be scared. The people try to scare people to make them feel good.

  • Mushaf-E2
    11/01/2018 - 03:28 p.m.

    Man this was great! i love this article it honestly thought me so much about why we think things are scary. I also love that she told us the fun part of being scared. One thing that i love about this is i learned that when you know that you are in no danger or harm you think its fun to be scared. The story about the CN tower edge walk i thought was really interesting i live how she talked about her experience. :)

  • CarleeH-hol
    11/02/2018 - 09:46 a.m.

    it can be fun when you get scared because sometimes you can make them laugh.

  • PeytonA-hol
    11/02/2018 - 09:47 a.m.

    Fear can be fun by making people nervous when people get nervous they get tensed up when people get over a fear they get excited excitement comes from overcoming an obstacle

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT