Can Experiencing Horror Help Your Brain?

A scary figure emerges in a doorway at Dystopia Haunted House. Courtesy of Dystopia Haunted House / Henriette Klausen

Fear gets a bad rap. It’s a so-called negative emotion, one that supposedly stands between us and our dreams. It is certainly true that pure fear doesn’t feel good, but that is the whole point of the emotion. Fear tells us to get the hell out of Dodge because Dodge is a bad place. Fear evolved over millions of years to protect us from danger. So, yes, fear is a feel-bad emotion, but also, and perhaps paradoxically, the engine in a whole range of pleasurable activities and behaviors—which inspire what we can call recreational fear.

Once you start looking for it, you’ll find recreational fear everywhere. From a very early age, humans love being jump-scared by caregivers in the form of peek-a-boo, and being hurtled into the air (and caught). They get older and take great pleasure in chase play and hide-and-seek. They are drawn to scary stories about monsters and witches and ghosts. They perform daredevil tricks on playgrounds and race their bikes toward what, from a parent’s perspective, is certain and violent death.

As they grow a little older they get together for horror movie nights, stand patiently in line for roller coasters, and play horror video games. Indeed, most of us never quite lose our peculiar attraction to recreational fear—even if we eschew slasher flicks or dark crime shows brimming with murder, death, and gore.

So even though Dodge may be a bad place, we still keep visiting it, at least from the safe distance of play and make-believe. How come? One hypothesis is that recreational fear is a form of play behavior, which is widespread in the animal kingdom and ubiquitous among humans. When an organism plays, it learns important skills and develops strategies for survival.

Playfighting kittens train their ability to hold their own in a hostile encounter, but with little risk and low cost, compared to the real thing. Same with humans. When we play, we learn important things about the physical and social world, and about our own inner world. When we engage in recreational fear activities specifically, from peek-a-boo to horror movie watching, we play with fear, challenge our limits, and learn about our own physiological and psychological responses to stress. In other words, recreational fear might actually be good for us.

To investigate whether that is indeed the case and why, my colleagues and I have established the Recreational Fear Lab, a research center at Aarhus University, Denmark. We do lab studies, survey studies, and real-world empirical studies to understand this widespread but scientifically understudied psychological phenomenon.

In one ambitious research project, led by my colleague Marc Malmdorf Andersen, we set out to investigate the experiences of guests at a very frightening haunted houseDystopia Haunted House in Denmark. We mounted surveillance cameras in the house’s scariest rooms, strapped participants with heart rate monitors, and distributed a bunch of questionnaires.

The surveillance footage allowed us to see how guests responded to frightening events, such as a chainsaw-wielding pig-man chasing them down a dark corridor. The heart rate monitors told us about their physiological responses to such events, and the questionnaires allowed us to understand how they felt about it all.

They told us they perceived their experiences as a kind of play, supporting our notion of recreational horror as a medium for playing with fear. But we also wanted to go deeper into the relationship between fear and enjoyment. You might think that relationship is linear—the more fear, the better. But when we plotted the actual relationship between fear and enjoyment, it looked like an upside-down U. In other words, when people go to a haunted attraction, they don’t want too little fear (which is boring), and they don’t want too much fear (which is unpleasant).

What they want is to hit what we call the “sweet spot of fear.” That doesn’t just go for high-intensity haunted attractions either. When you hurtle a kid into the air, you don’t want it to be too tame or too wild; when teenagers joyride their bikes, they need just the right amount of tummy-tickling arousal; when you pick a horror movie on Netflix, you try to go for the one that sits just at the right point on the scare-o-meter.

So, there is pleasure to be had from these vicarious visits to Dodge, but are there any other benefits? In several past and ongoing studies of the psychological and social effects of engagement with recreational fear, we’ve seen it improve people’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety. For instance, one study—led by my colleague Coltan Scrivner—found that people who watch many horror movies exhibited better psychological resilience during the first Covid-19 lockdown than people who stay away from scary movies.

Presumably, the horror hounds have trained their ability to regulate their own fear from playing with it. We know from another Dystopia Haunted House study that people actively use a range of coping strategies to regulate their fear levels in pursuit of the sweet spot, and it makes sense that we get better at using those strategies through practice.

You can think of recreational fear as a kind of mental jungle gym where you prepare for the real thing, or as a kind of fear inoculation. A small dose of fear galvanizes the organism for the big dose that life throws at it sooner or later. So even though fear itself may be unpleasant, recreational fear is not only fun—it may be good for us.

My colleagues and I even have preliminary results to suggest that some people with mental health issues, such as anxiety disorder and depression, get relief from recreational horror. Maybe it’s about escaping anhedonia—emotional flatlining—momentarily, and maybe it’s about playing with troublesome emotions in a controllable context. For fear to be fun, you need to feel not only that the levels are just-so, but that you are in relative control of the experience.

With research findings such as these in mind, we should maybe think twice about shielding kids and young people too zealously from playful forms of fear. They’ll end up in Dodge sooner or later, and they will be better equipped if they’ve at least pretended to be there before.

By: Mathias Clasen, Zócalo Public Square

Source: Can Experiencing Horror Help Your Brain? | Science| Smithsonian Magazine


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A Little RedBull May Give You Wings, But It Probably Will Not Affect Your Tpe

“Energy drinks” (EDs) often contain high levels of caffeine and sugar, with variable levels of taurine, guarana, other “supplements,” and on occasion, vitamins. Frequently chosen by teens and young adults, the sale of EDs has enjoyed tremendous market growth. Over 4.6 billion cans of the most successful of these beverages, Red Bull, were sold in 2011. This prosperity resulted from the strong, recent worldwide annual growth, such as 11% in the United States, 35% in France, and 86% in Turkey.

Whether consumed alone or with alcohol or other drugs, EDs may have significant physical and behavioral effects (). Marketing materials for EDs often imply that these products will improve energy level, attention span, and physical and/or mental performance . Red Bull has been shown to increase heart rate and blood pressure and can reduce cerebral blood flow; these effects can be potentiated under conditions of stress . EDs were responsible for over 20,000 emergency department visits in the United States in 2011, including a doubling in the incidence between 2007 and 2011.

In this issue of the Anatolian Journal of Cardiology, Elitok et al. reported on the electrocardiographic effects of Red Bull. They had particular interest in Red Bull’s effects on ventricular repolarization. The dispersion of ventricular repolarization (DVR), as indicated by a longer interval between the T wave’s peak and end (Tpe or Tpe/QT), correlates with arrhythmic risk in multiple populations .

The healthy volunteer medical students in this investigation consumed a single can of Red Bull under controlled conditions, and the effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and electrocardiographic measurements were observed. As expected, both blood pressure and heart rate increased following Red Bull consumption. However, no change in electrocardiographic DVR was found.

Should young club-going people take this news as vindication of their next order for a “vodka and Red Bull?” Can we write off Red Bull’s cardiovascular effects as benign? Not so fast. The absence of an acute effect of a small dose of ED on one arrhythmia risk factor measured only in ECG lead V5 among a relatively small number of healthy young adults at rest does not equate to definite harmlessness. Our understanding of Red Bull’s effects remains incomplete, especially in cases wherein larger doses are consumed, especially by sicker people and under more strenuous conditions.

Would the consumption of five cans of Red Bull affect healthy subjects’ ECGs? Might only one serving of Red Bull affect ECG of a cardiomyopathy patient or ECG of a patient taking other cardiovascular active medications? Does chronic Red Bull consumption have the same or different effects as a Red Bull binge?

Elitok et al. should be congratulated for their interest in exposing potentially dangerous effects of popular EDs. More studies are required for us to declare Red Bull consumption to be harmless. For now, we can take heart in the absence of one signal of potential danger. At least this little bull is not in the proverbial china shop.

Energy drinks have the effects caffeine and sugar provide, but there is little or no evidence that the wide variety of other ingredients have any effect. Most of the effects of energy drinks on cognitive performance, such as increased attention and reaction speed, are primarily due to the presence of caffeine. Advertising for energy drinks usually features increased muscle strength and endurance, but there is little evidence to support this in the scientific literature.

A caffeine intake of 400 mg per day (for an adult) is considered as safe from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption in amounts greater than 400 mg include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), and dyspepsia. Consumption also has been known to cause pupil dilation. Caffeine dosage is not required to be on the product label for food in the United States, unlike drugs, but most (although not all) place the caffeine content of their drinks on the label anyway, and some advocates are urging the FDA to change this practice.

Excessive consumption of energy drinks can have serious health effects resulting from high caffeine and sugar intakes, particularly in children, teens, and young adults. Excessive energy drink consumption may disrupt teens’ sleep patterns and may be associated with increased risk-taking behavior. Excessive or repeated consumption of energy drinks can lead to cardiac problems, such as arrhythmias and heart attacks, and psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and phobias.

In Europe, energy drinks containing sugar and caffeine have been associated with the deaths of athletes. Reviews have noted that caffeine content was not the only factor, and that the cocktail of other ingredients in energy drinks made them more dangerous than drinks whose only stimulant was caffeine; the studies noted that more research and government regulation were needed

By: Todd M. Rosenthal and Daniel P. Morin

Source: A little Red Bull may give you wings, but it probably will not affect your Tpe


Related Contents:

Uber, Facebook, Instagram and Other Apps That are Slowly Killing Your Smartphone

Uber, Facebook, Instagram and other apps that are slowly killing your smartphone

What is the first thing you do when you launch a new smartphone ? Download all the apps you need, of course. After a few hours (or days) downloading applications, your entry menu ends up covered in colorful squares, giving you the satisfaction that you have everything: apps for social networks, transport, dating, online commerce, for video conferencing and fitness, for name the most popular.

However, recent research found that many of them are slowly killing your smartphone. The pCloud company, which offers cloud storage services, conducted a study to discover which applications are most demanding for our mobile devices.

The research looked at 100 of the most popular apps based on three criteria: the features each app uses (such as location or camera), the battery consumption, and whether dark mode is available. Thus they found which of these not only drain the battery of our phone, they also occupy the most memory and make it slower.

These are the apps classified as ‘smartphone killers’

According to the study, the Fitbit and Verizon apps turned out to be the biggest ‘smartphone killers. Both allow 14 of the 16 available functions to run in the background, including the four most demanding: camera, location, microphone and WiFi connection. This earned them the highest score in the study: 92.31%.

Of the 20 most demanding applications for mobile battery, 6 are social networks . Facebook , Instagram , Snapchat , Youtube , WhatsApp, and LinkedIn allow 11 functions to run in the background, such as photos, WiFi, location, and microphone. Of these, only IG allows dark mode to save up to 30% battery, just like Twitter , which did not enter the top 20.

Dating apps Tinder , Bumble and Grinder account for 15% of the top 20 most demanding apps. On average, they allow 11 functions to run in the background and none have a dark mode.

In terms of the amount of memory they require, travel and transportation apps dominated the list. The United Airlines app is the one that consumes the most storage on the phone, as it requires 437.8 MB of space. Lyft follows with 325.1 MB and then Uber , which occupies 299.6 MB.

Among the video conferencing apps, Microsoft Teams is the one that consumes the most memory, occupying 232.2 MB of space. In comparison, Zoom only requires 82.1 MB and Skype 111.2 MB.

The 20 apps that wear out your phone the most

The top 20 of the most demanding applications, based on the functions they execute and all the activity they generate, was as follows:

  1. Fitbit – 92%
  2. Verizon – 92%
  3. Uber – 87%
  4. Skype – 87%
  5. Facebook – 82%
  6. AirB & B – 82%
  7. BIGO LIVE – 82%
  8. Instagram – 79%
  9. Tinder – 77%
  10. Bumble – 77%
  11. Snapchat – 77%
  12. WhatsApp – 77%
  13. Zoom – 77%
  14. YouTube – 77%
  15. Booking – 77%
  16. Amazon – 77%
  17. Telegram – 77%
  18. Grinder – 72%
  19. Likke – 72%
  20. LinkedIn – 72%

Among the 50 applications that kill the battery and memory of the phone are also Twitter (no. 25), Shazam (30), Shein (31), Spotify (32), Pinterest (37), Amazon Prime (38), Netflix (40), TikTok (41), Duolingo (44) and Uber Eats (50).

If you are already considering doing a general cleaning of apps, you can consult the complete list here .

By: Entrepreneur en Español / Entrepreneur Staff

Source: Uber, Facebook, Instagram and other apps that are slowly killing your smartphone


Our smartphones have become such an integral part of our lives that we can’t imagine life without it. Just like any object, phones are also subjected to wear and tear as well as our mishandling. Here are some things that you should stop if you want to prolong your phone’s life.

Draining your phone’s battery
Most smartphones have lithium-ion batteries with limited life cycles. If you’re constantly draining your phone to 1% before charging, it reduces the battery’s life cycles.

Exposing your phone to drastic temperatures
We understand that your phone can’t be left in your bag or pocket all the time. However, don’t leave it out in temperatures below 0 and above 35 degrees celsius as permanent damages may be done to the handset.

Maxing out your storage
Your phone needs extra storage space in order for the operating system to continue functioning. Maxing out your storage causes your phone to lag or crash. Avoid this by backing up your phone’s content regularly to either your computer or cloud storage.

Leaving your phone in the shower
Doesn’t a nice hot shower feels good at the end of the day? Not so much for your phone. Steam can seep into your phone and condense into water, which may short circuit the hardware.

Constantly dropping your phone
No matter how good the protective casing your phone is in, dropping it constantly will affect its internal hardware. Be thankful if it’s just a cracked screen; more often than not, the damages are more serious than that.

Too many background apps
Is it really necessary to keep Candy Crush, Facebook, Instagram, Calendar and Whatsapp all opened at the same time? This causes your phone to dedicate extra RAM to these apps and drains your battery.

Not turning your phone off
Like humans, your phone also needs a break once in a while. Leaving it on 24/7 can shorten the lifespan of the battery and decrease its performance.

Overnight charging
Most smartphones are clever enough to cut off the power supply to the battery once it’s fully charged. However, lithium-ion batteries don’t fare well against high heats. When you leave your phone plugged in overnight, especially with the casing on, overheating can occur and decrease the battery life.

Relying on cellular data
If you’re only using 3G/4G for internet connectivity, think again. Connecting to Wi-Fi consumes less energy than data network which helps make your battery lasts longer.

Cleaning your phone with household products
There’s a reason why cleaning agents exist specifically for phones. The chemicals in your household bleach or detergent can damage the protective layer often found on your phone’s screen.


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