A Seasonal Haunted House Becomes a Lab for Studying Fear
The 17th Door in Fullerton, near Los Angeles has become a
laboratory for scientists at California Insitute of Technology (Caltech) to
study how people react to fear. The team leading the research is Colin Carmerer, the Robert
Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics and Director of the T&C Chen Center
for Social and Decision Neuroscience in the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute
for Neuroscience at Caltech.
The study found that people have a tendency to overestimate or understimate their on a situation they are going to encounter whether it is facing zombies, bloodstained killers and other horrors in the haunted house.
The participants in the study were asked to a wear a device on their wrist that measures their heart rate, blood pressure and other factors such as sweating through skin which are indicators of how fearful they are.
The researchers say they also want to test whether a person's fear levels depend on the number of friends with whom they walk through the house. "Do they feel safety in numbers?" asks Camerer.
Once the researchers have a better idea of what the data look like from this year's run, which ends shortly after Halloween, they hope to plan future experiments and potentially write up the results. One of their long-term goals, says Camerer, is to study how well people can learn to control their emotions during extreme experiences like this. "This should lead to breakthroughs in helping people feel less anxious and afraid in everyday life," says Camerer.