With Halloween just around the corner, researchers are using Edmonton’s scariest haunted house to test a theory on how sound contributes to fear.
MacEwan University professors chose to conduct their study at Deadmonton in the old Paramount Theatre for the second year in a row.
In its fourth year in Alberta’s capital, Deadmonton is known for providing a thrill.
“You can basically expect an intense, very scary walk-through experience, like you’ve never experienced before,” explained owner Ryan Kozar.
“It’s not like the old haunted house rides that you’d see at the fair back in the day.”
He normally tries to spook all of the senses in the haunted house.
“You walk into the summoning room — there’s cemetery sounds. You go through the woods, the swamp scene — there’s swap sounds, there’s crickets. It brings it all to life. There might be some scents in there, too.”
Researchers from MacEwan University are especially interested in analyzing the impact of an inaudible sound.
“Infrasound is a sound that’s below what we can hear, below 20 hertz. But you can still feel it. It’s like a low, rumbling base sound,” associate professor Rodney Schmaltz explained.
Watch below from Oct. 6: The old Paramount Theatre in downtown was transformed into the Deadmonton haunted house with the night’s proceeds going to 630 CHED Santas Anonymous.
They put together a study with 30 research participants. Each person was asked to wear a GoPro camera and a heart rate monitor. One at a time, they were tasked with spending 15 minutes wandering through the basement of the old Paramount Theatre, full of Deadmonton props.
Normally, 40 actors in full costume and makeup are part of the Deadmonton experience, but not for this experiment.
“The problem is the fear levels would be so high that we might not find any difference, because everyone is maxed out. It’s still frightening in the basement of Deadmonton, but it’s nothing compared to when the actors are here,” Schmaltz said.
Half of the volunteers would go through with the low frequency noise, half would go through without it.
“The hair on the back of your neck goes up; you feel something.”
“You might go, ‘Oh, it’s a ghost!’ When in fact it’s just infrasound,” Schmaltz said.
The study is an extension of one that was done in 2016.
“One thing we found last year was the people who were exposed to infrasound walked through faster,” associate professor Nicole Anderson said.
People exposed to the sound also didn’t look around much, which researchers took to mean they were scared.
This year Anderson and Schmaltz are hoping to see if participants exposed to the sound move away from it and if having everyone in for the same duration of time impacts the fear-level reported afterwards.
“Infrasound is all around us,” Schmaltz explained. “Wind turbines generate it, thunderstorms can generate it, low rumbling pipes.”
The professors expect to have the results of their study in a few months.
If their theory proves correct, Kozar said Deadmonton may feature infrasound in the years to come.