Northeastern University recently saw a haunted house set up in its premises. Sure, there is the usual young girl trapped in the clutches of a ghostly figure, or that silent human-looking figure who watches your each and every move and makes you think that it will pounce on you if you once focus elsewhere. However, it was not your usual house; it was based on science.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of Psychology at the University, was keen on applying “the science of emotion to scare people”. Her daughter, Sophia, was the one who cooked this up in the first place. She has been actively maintaining the charity event – in the form of a haunted house – since she was only nine. All of the collected dollars go to the Greater Boston Food Bank. The mother-daughter duo also took the help of Barrett’s lab members to play-act as ghosts and ghouls in this scientific haunted house.
Barrett, in 2007, has been bestowed with a Pioneer Award by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), in regards her extraordinary work on emotions. She claims that the point when we jump up in fear is when the feelings of uncertainty reach the level of most intense arousal. Most of the figures, therefore, are placed in the haunted house in a way that will achieve that level.
“When someone has the expectation that something fearful might be about to happen, that potentiates the startle response,” she said.
It does require some skill and time-awareness, even if its nothing but a haunted house. The synchronisation of the ‘ghouls’ is highly crucial. “Timing is important when you set expectancies and then violate them,” Barrett assured.
The house didn’t have any outlandish bloody and gory effects; it, instead, played with your senses, by building “a creepy sense of terror.” The house, as Barrett claimed, wanted the visitors to experience pleasant fear, instead of unpleasant fear, from the three levels of fright from the haunted house – scary, scarier, and scariest. From all the haunted houses ever created, I think this is the only one with its base immersed so deeply in science, inducing fear that can be controlled – even studied. The charity event was, therefore, successful, in ways one can’t even fathom.