Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: PublicAffairs (September 29, 2015)
Nearly two weeks ago, I saw a post on the RVA Horror Book Club Facebook page that lead me to a Slate article “The Terror of Yurei: Japanese haunted house attractions construct an intimate, immersive experience that will actually thrill you” which turned out to be an excerpt from Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear by Margee Kerr. After reading the excerpt, I purchased the Kindle version of the text and read it in about three days.
Broken into four sections (physical thrills, psychological chills, real fears, and bringing it home), Scream introduces readers to Margee Kerr’s research on fear as a sociologist as well as her research connected to the haunted house, ScareHouse. On their website, it reads “Scare specialist Dr. Marge Kerr is a sociologist who studies fear! Margee works closely with our design team to create the most terrifying experiences imaginable, based on years of research and travel all over the world!” Kerr begins her book by explaining that she “spent over six years working in research with oversight from the institutional review board (IRB) at a local university, which set strict parameters on human subject research.” She also notes that for part of this time her sociological observations included peeping through a hole in the wall while in the behind-the-scenes area of the haunted attraction. Here she was able to observe what actually scared people and how they reacted to such fears.
|From her website: http://www.margeekerr.com|
Scream isn’t just about the haunted house where she works. It’s more of a travel literature style journal (i.e. her “chilling adventures” hence the subtitle) where she travels around the world to an abandoned prison that is allegedly haunted, to a roller coaster with a 3,300 ft. drop, and to Aokigahara Jukai known to most Westerns as “the suicide forest” to both explain why other people come to these places and also why she decided to come. Kerr notes that there is a great deal of research on the negative effects of fear that she became more interested in the positive effects. While Kerr includes the science of fear throughout her book, she does it from a sociologist’s perspective so it doesn’t come across as heavy but more as conversational tidbits. For example, she discusses the various stress hormones in our bodies and explains the reactions including cortisol that turns fatty acids into energy. One of the reactions from this is a temporary loss of hearing and tunnel vision. As an aside, I’ve seen this acted out in movies but never personally experienced it so I figured it was a movie trope to visually show fear; turns out, there actually is some reality to this. Thanks Dr. Kerr!
I’ve seen some other reviews where her work has been attacked for that… but hey, I’m in the Humanities so they would probably attack my research as well.
Needless to say, I’ve been developing a Dark Tourism course for general studies and I’m planning to use Kerr’s Scream as a required read. Another aspect that I enjoy is that while Kerr is considered a “national expert on fear”, her doctoral dissertation focused on Autism and vaccines. Here is proof that not only can you earn a doctorate degree but your researcher life continues and maybe even grows with you.
About the Author
Margee Kerr has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Pittsburgh, where she currently teaches. [Her website also notes that she teaches at Robert Morris University, and Chatham University.] She is also a nationally recognized expert on professional haunted houses and works year-round for the ScareHouse haunted house, analyzing data on customers and employees to make its attractions scarier. Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, Parade, Atlantic Monthly, and NPR’s Science Friday, among other places. She is also is the coinvestigator on the country’s first-of-its-kind study measuring fear in the real world, collecting data on how the brain and body responds in real-life threatening situations. She lives in Pittsburgh.