Recreational fear: An emotion regulation example

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about recreational fear. (See my first writing on the topic posted in October 2023). As a newly-minted honorary member of the research team at the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University in Denmark (thank you Mathias Clasen!), I’ve had even more reason to think about recreational fear.

Proof of my honorary membership to the Recreational Fear Lab research teamProof of my honorary membership to the Recreational Fear Lab research team


According to a national survey of Intro Psych instructors, 64% of us cover emotion (Richmond et al., 2021). For the third who don’t, I encourage you to give covering it some consideration. If the theories of emotion don’t do much for you, leave those out. In other blog posts, such as this one from September 2022, I’ve discussed covering emotion regulation strategies. There are plenty of examples of people making poor emotion regulation choices, such as frustrated Denver Nuggets player Jamal Murray throwing a heat pack onto the basketball court as an opposing player drove for a layup (Li, 2024). Helping students understand the different types of emotion regulation strategies might help them make better emotion regulation choices. (There’s an empirical question worthy of study.)

Here are the five emotion regulation strategies (McRae & Gross, 2020).

  1. Situation selection: choosing situations to elicit or not elicit specific emotions
  2. Situation modification: changing an existing situation to elicit or not elicit specific emotions
  3. Attentional deployment: shifting attention in an existing situation to elicit or not elicit specific emotions
  4. Cognitive change: reframing an existing situation or its elements to elicit or not elicit specific emotions
  5. Response modulation: employing behavior that reduces the strength of a specific emotion once it has occurred

One way to help students understand emotion regulation strategies is—after explaining the strategies—to ask students to think about those strategies in terms of recreational fear, which we can loosely define as fear that is fun. Let’s use horror movies as an example of recreational fear.

  1. Situation selection. We watch horror movies in order to experience fear in a safe space where there is no actual danger from a murderer with a chainsaw.
  2. Situation modification. While watching a horror movie, we may cover our eyes during some scenes in order to reduce the amount of fear we experience.
  3. Attentional deployment. Rather than focus on the action in a particular scene, we may pay attention to the quality of the cinematography or admire the skill of the makeup artists. Or take the opportunity to fish out the last milkdud stuck to the bottom of the box.
  4. Cognitive change. “I’m not scared. I’m excited to see what is going to happen next!”
  5. Response modulation. “I am scared out of my mind right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths to reduce the intensity of what I am experiencing.

If your students seem into the topic of recreational fear, give them the opportunity to explore the topic further. Here are some possible discussion questions.

  • What are some other examples of recreational fear?  
  • Some people enjoy some types of recreational fear more than others. Why might that be? Might there be personality differences? If so, what might those be?
  • Are all horror the films the same? Or are there different types of horror films? If so, how do they differ?
  • When does recreational fear cross the line into being real fear?




Li. (2024, May 7). Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray throws heat pack on court during game, slammed as “inexcusable and dangerous.” NBC News.

McRae, K., & Gross, J. J. (2020). Emotion regulation. Emotion, 20(1), 1–9.

Richmond, A. S., Boysen, G. A., Hudson, D. L., Gurung, R. A. R., Naufel, K. Z., Neufeld, G., Landrum, R. E., Dunn, D. S., & Beers, M. (2021). The Introductory Psychology census: A national study. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 7(3), 163–180.




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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.