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									Running Head: FRIGHT NIGHT                                       1




                                  Fright Night

                                   Amy Pfaff

                  Northern Virginia Community College, Loudoun

                                Psy 201 TF9:30
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                                            Fright Night

     I spent two weekends in a row volunteering at “Fright Night” where they had set up a

haunted forest in which I, and others, were positioned at different parts of this haunted forest for

the sole purpose to scare the paying costumers. We would arrive two hours before it was open to

the public so we could get our proper attire on and our fantastically scary, gruesome make-up.

After set-up was finished we would walk to our designated spot and get ready to scare people. As

people walked on the trail through the forest they were confronted by many different characters

and scenes. One example is after passing three white clothed girls the path would lead them into

a clearing where a bus awaited them. As their guide led them to the bus they would notice a girl

about 30 feet out in the clearing; just walking slow, back faced to them so they could not see her

as the people approached the bus. I ( the girl) turned to face them and started to slowly walk

towards them. My hair was mangled and my face looked pale-white with make-up running down

my bruised face. I looked deranged and frantic. As I slowly got closer and closer I could see the

people’s discomfort as they started to push each other a little so they could get on the bus that

they once feared to get on. Their eyes never left me for they feared the unknown. I never showed

any hostility or anger, but the fact that they were not sure of what I might do made them

uncomfortable. As soon as they were loaded into the smoky, pitch black bus my job was done

and the vampires (on the bus) took over. Although most showed discomfort and fear, they did

not all express it the same. The Sympathetic Nervous System, Perceptual Set, and Mob Mentality

came into play with how they showed their fear.

Fear and the Sympathetic Nervous System

     “The Sympathetic Nervous System arouses. If something alarms, enrages, or challenges

you (such as a longed-for job interview), the sympathetic system will accelerate your heart-beat,
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raise your blood pressure, slow you digestion, raise your blood sugar, and cool you with

perspiration, making you alert and ready for action” (Myers, 2007, p. 62). As I was working at

“Fright Night” I made sure to analyze the people as they were being scared and look for signs

that their sympathetic nervous system fired. One night I did not scare anyone, but simply went

along with a group as they walked the trail. I was holding hands with a friend, for she was

nervous for what was going to scare her, and as we went through the first haunted scene I noticed

that her hands were beginning to sweat and I could hear her breathing faster as her heart-beat

increased. After that first scene we had a long walk before anything else came to scare us, but

she was still aroused and she thought that every little noise in the forest was scary. This can be

called the two factor theory. Soon she calmed down and that showed me that her

parasympathetic nervous system kicked in to counteract the sympathetic nervous system.

Unfortunately for her sympathetic nervous system there were many more things to come to make

it fire up again.

Perceptual Set and Fear

     Perceptual Set is anything that effects how someone perceives something. “Our

experiences, assumptions and expectations may give us a perceptual set, or mental

predisposition, that greatly influences what we perceive ” (Myers, 2007. P. 257). Knowledge,

mood, personality, expectation, and past experiences are some of the things that affects our

perceptual set. Those of us in the crowd to be scared at Fright Night all come from different

backgrounds so it is safe to say that everyone’s perceptual set is different. This caused each

individual to react to things differently.

    After going through the frightening trail once I was back to work. As my fellow frighteners

and I waited for the next group to come we would talk about the last group that we just scared.
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Some of the groups were more fun to scare then others. The groups consisted mainly of huge

groups of friends which seemed to have similar perceptual sets probably due to the fact they

share similar ages, races, etc. Groups of 10-15 year olds were our favorite to scare for they were

the easiest to frighten. The older groups of 40+ were not very scared, but were uneasy when loud

noises came towards them. We had the most trouble with a group who had seemed to have been

drinking, for they were very disrespectful due to alcohol imparing their judgments. Also a group

of “gangsters” gave us a scare when one of the people’s natural instinct, when scared, was to

punch.

Mob Mentality

     Mob mentality, emotional contagion, and norms all have to do with how we act with people.

Mob mentality shows how groups of people act differently then individuals. Emotional

contagion is the “tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions,

vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person (Hatfield, Cacioppo, &

Rapson, 1994)” (Wikipedia, n.d, 1-4).

     Mob mentality and emotional contagion were apparent while I was working “fright night”. I

could see that in these huge groups of people they were affected by each other. Sometimes it

seemed that there would be that one person who would react more then everyone else in the

group and that his actions caused everyone else to be more fearful then if he had not been there.

One day there was a guy who turned a corner and saw something scary that caused his body to

be stiff and to walk slower. Everyone in his group copied his behavior even though they could

not see what he was scared of.

                                           Conclusion

     I found this project very interesting because I got to observe and provoke fear in people.
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Seeing how so many things factor in to make someone react the way they do was amazing. I saw

how our perceptual set caused a person to perceive things differently from others and then how

the sympathetic nervous system reacts to that stimulus. Lastly I saw how emotional contagion,

mob mentality, and norms can really affect how we react in these situations too, by causing us to

over exaggerate our emotions or conform to the surrounding people’s emotions.
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                                         References

Myers, D. G. (2007). Psychology (8th Edition). New York, New York: Worth Publishers.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Emotional contagion. Retrieved from the Wikipedia Website:

       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/emotional_contagion
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