“This was the scariest thing I have ever been through,” said Vicki Baath after being hooded and made to feel “like a hostage”. “I didn’t know where to go and where they would lead me,” said the 45-year-old teacher who was also walked into a dark wood, tied up on a bed and surrounded by creepy voices and forms. She had just completed a horror-themed experiment that sought to establish the perfect balance between fear and excitement. In an observation room, researchers and the production team followed the spectacle on a monitor.
The “Peak Fear” experiment is a collaboration between the Liseberg theme park and the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University which seeks to “explore the limits of fear, and to find the sweet spot between fun and the unpleasant”. Karl Svedung, head of marketing for Liseberg, said the experiment would allow them to expand their “horror experiences”. “We want to develop all the time… and that requires new insights,” Svedung said.
Clowns and blood
The experience is divided into five stages focusing on different types of fear. The participants navigate flashing lights, confined and dark spaces as well as blood splattered walls. Actors play scary monsters while in some cases other victims try to push them to their breaking point. After completing it, Baath said she was “really proud”. Only two participants out of 1,600 applicants were selected to take part in the tailor-made horror experience.
The two were not told anything about it beforehand — meaning they didn’t know what to expect or even how long it would last. Helge Branscheidt, 38, a hair and makeup artist from Hamburg, Germany, signed up after hearing about it online. Despite his fondness for horror movies, he admitted being a bit scared and called the experience “crazy, creepy and really terrifying.”
“But because I love horror so much it was really the right thing for me… I’m still like kind of flying high because it was so special,” he said. The experiment was overseen by researcher Mathias Clasen of the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University. Recreational fear refers to “behaviours in which people derive pleasure from being frightened,” Clasen explained.
A camera filmed the subjects’ faces and expressions throughout the experiment. They were also fitted with a host of sensors, measuring things like their heartbeat and other fear responses such as how sweaty their palms became. With just two test subjects, Clasen admitted that from a scientific perspective there wasn’t much that could be concluded from this particular experiment.
But it was still an opportunity to examine the participants’ responses in an extreme setting. The research has shown that engaging in frightening activities can have surprising health benefits. For instance, during the pandemic, they found that people who reported regularly watching horror films had better mental health outcomes during lockdowns.
“People who watch many scary movies reported better psychological resilience and fewer symptoms of stress,” Clasen told AFP. According to Mathis, this suggests that playful engagements with fear can act as a type of “stress vaccine.”
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.