Playing With Fear: A Field Study in Recreational Horror

Marc Malmdorf Andersen*, Uffe Schjoedt, Henry Price, Fernando E. Rosas, Coltan Scrivner, Mathias Clasen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

150 Downloads (Pure)


Haunted attractions are illustrative examples of recreational fear in which people voluntarily seek out frightening experiences in pursuit of enjoyment. We present findings from a field study at a haunted-house attraction where visitors between the ages of 12 and 57 years (N = 110) were equipped with heart rate monitors, video-recorded at peak scare points during the attraction, and asked to report on their experience. Our results show that enjoyment has an inverted-U-shaped relationship with fear across repeated self-reported measures. Moreover, results from physiological data demonstrate that the experience of being frightened is a linear function of large-scale heart rate fluctuations, whereas there is an inverted-U-shaped relationship between participant enjoyment and small-scale heart rate fluctuations. These results suggest that enjoyment is related to forms of arousal dynamics that are “just right.” These findings shed light on how fear and enjoyment can coexist in recreational horror.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Pages (from-to)1497-1510
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • arousal
  • enjoyment
  • fear
  • heart rate
  • horror
  • open data
  • open materials
  • play


Dive into the research topics of 'Playing With Fear: A Field Study in Recreational Horror'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this