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Fear is entertaining when it provides a short deviation from a person's normal physiological state

It is that time of the year when people flock to haunted houses for the enjoyment of being scared - and a new study reveals why humans seek out this 'recreational fear.' 

A team from Aarhus University found horror becomes entertaining when it triggers a specific physical response, such as a change in heart rate, and provides a short deviation from a persons's normal physiological state.

However, the enjoyment can take a dark turn when that deviation is long-lasting, as it can cause individuals to become overwhelmed and then dread takes over.

The study suggests there is a 'sweet spot' for where fear entertainment is maximized, but can quickly cross the line into a horrifying experience. 

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It is that time of the year where people flock to haunted houses for the enjoyment of being scared - and a new study reveals why humans seek out this 'recreational fear'

Fear is typically categorized as being unpleasant and is used as a way for humans to protect themselves from harm.

However, there is a phenomenon called ‘recreational fear,' which occurs when it is an enjoyable experience in which people seek out.

Marc Malmdorf Andersen, a researcher at the Interacting Minds Center at Aarhus University and lead author of the paper, said: 'By investigating how humans derive pleasure from fear, we find that there seems to be a 'sweet spot' where enjoyment is maximized.'

'Our study provides some of the first empirical evidence on the relationship between fear, enjoyment, and physical arousal in recreational forms of fear.'

The study involved 110 participants who wore a heart monitoring devices as they walked through a 50-room haunted house that employed a number of scare tactics

Researchers found horror becomes entertaining when it triggers a specific physical response, such as a change in heart rate, and provides a short deviation from a persons's normal physiological state

The study involved 110 participants who wore a heart monitoring devices as they walked through a 50-room haunted house that employed a number of scare tactics.

This included frequent jump scares, in which zombies or other monstrous creates suddenly appeared or went charging toward the volunteer.

The participants were also watched by scientists via a livestream, allowing them to see real-time reactions as they bravely walked through the haunted house. 

When guests reached the end of the haunted house, they were asked questions about level of freight and enjoyment during each encounter.

The self-reported experiences were compared with the heart rate monitor data and surveillance cameras to determine the fear-related and enjoyment-related elements of the attraction on subjective, behavioral and physiological levels. 

'Past studies on recreational fear, however, have not been able to establish a direct relationship between enjoyment and fear,' said Andersen.

Plotting the relationship between self-reported fear and enjoyment, the researchers discovered an inverted U-shape trend, revealing an apparent sweet spot for fear where enjoyment is maximized.

'If people are not very scared, they do not enjoy the attraction as much, and the same happens if they are too scared,' said Andersen. 'Instead, it seems to be the case that a 'just-right' amount of fear is central for maximizing enjoyment.'

However, the enjoyment can take a dark turn when that deviation is long-lasting, as it can cause individuals to become overwhelmed and dread takes over. The study suggests there is a 'sweet spot' for where fear entertainment is maximized, but can quickly cross the line into a horrifying experience

The results showed a similar inverted U-shape for the participants' heart rate signatures, suggesting that enjoyment is related to just-right deviations from a person's normal physiological state. 

However, when fearful encounters trigger large and long-lasting deviations from this normal state, as measured by pulse rates going up and down frequently over a longer period of time, unpleasant sensations often follow.

'This is strikingly similar to what scientists have found to characterize human play,' said Andersen. 

'We know, for instance, that curiosity is often aroused when individuals have their expectations violated to a just-right degree, and several accounts of play stress the importance of just-right doses of uncertainty and surprise for explaining why play feels enjoyable.'

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