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 and loves to scare herself as part of her research.
 
Kerr is a sociologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and just in time for Halloween, she's written a book called "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear."
 
The book documents Kerr's adventures around the world experiencing extreme attractions, ranging from the tallest roller coasters in Japan to the CN Tower's EdgeWalk in Toronto, where participants are tethered to the skyscraper for an outdoor walk 116 stories off the ground.
 
Kerr also works at an attraction in Pittsburgh called ScareHouse, analyzing 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 that's fun and fulfilling," and that's the sweet spot sought by recreational activities, whether skydiving, zip lining, roller coasters or 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, many adventures across the world, 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 from activating the 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, 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, upping the fear factor 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 by helping 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?
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COMMENTS (35)
  • miral-6-bar
    10/29/2015 - 08:37 p.m.

    Fear can be enjoyed because our brain can release chemicals that we enjoy once we know we're not in real fear. "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," says Kerr.

    I found this article especially exciting because I love horror movies and haunted houses, but have always wondered why we enjoy fear.

  • nyleb-ree
    10/30/2015 - 11:30 a.m.

    Fear can be fun because after you complete a haunted house or something like that you can feel good about yourself. In the story it said"When you come out the other side of a scary movie or haunted house, you have accomplished something. You have tested your will." Also, you might be thrilled or excited about doing something scary, which can be fun. In the text it said"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."In conclusion fear can be inspiring and exciting.

  • melanien-ree
    10/30/2015 - 11:32 a.m.

    According to the article, fear can be fun because people can come out of a scary situation, having faced some fearful things. The people who know they may have faced their fears would enjoy that fact, boosting their self-esteem. The article stated, "'You've tested your will. Even though we know nothing will hurt us, the self-esteem boost is real.'" "'fear as a negative force. But there's another side to fear that's fun and fulfilling.'" "'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 exited and happy.'" Some people can enjoy the fear. Fear can be helpful and fun when your self-esteem is boosted and you can enjoy the dopamine and endorphins.

  • johnl3-wil
    10/30/2015 - 12:37 p.m.

    It involves the dopamine and adrenaline. There are different chemical reactions to fear in the brain. If the person's adrenaline shoots up suddenly, then they will be intensely scared, which is not fun. If the adrenaline is built up and then released, the experience can be quite fun and energetic. That is why haunted houses can be so fun. Adrenaline is kind of like alcohol, except it doesn't kill 20,000 brain cells.

    -John Lunzer

  • jackm-ree
    10/30/2015 - 01:02 p.m.

    In this article the main idea is about fear. Kerr went around to thrilling and scary places. Kerr did that to right her book.

    Also Kerr works at a scare house. She collects all the responses to find the right level of scare. Kerr wants the scare house to be thrilling and scary at the same time.

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

    In the article the ideas are about being afraid,Margee Kerr talked about her travel around the world with her scary and heart stopping adventures she also talks about how fear can be fun and thrilling.

  • erinu-day
    11/01/2015 - 06:28 p.m.

    This makes a lot of sense. When we know we aren't in physical danger were more likely to just enjoy the emotions and endorphins released from it. So many times you hear the term adrenaline junkie thrown about and all they're looking for is a good scare. Something to make your heartbeat and your blood pump.

  • julient-lam
    11/02/2015 - 02:39 p.m.

    I never knew thought that fear could be fun. I always think that fear is bad and never can be enjoyable.Whenever I go to a haunted house with friends I don't enjoy it I am completely scared. But, Now I feel like they were fun and that it was good completing the haunted house.

  • haylieh-bow
    11/03/2015 - 03:08 p.m.

    If you love roller coasters, the fear won't really be fear anymore, it'll be adrenaline, which makes you seem scared but some people love the adrenaline rush.

  • katier2-bow
    11/05/2015 - 07:42 a.m.

    Fear can be fun when you enjoy it.

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