A Friend in Fear

It’s that time of year again, when the streets are lined with ghouls and monsters, department stores are filled with plastic skeletons and more candy than they have room for, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s finally Halloween! Even though I’m a sucker for all things pumpkin, I’m most excited about all the new horror that comes with each Halloween season.

pumpkin patch

I’ve always loved anything that’s designed to scare. Ghost stories, zombie hoards, slasher flicks, you name it; I was that kid in junior high that made my friends watch the Blair Witch Project for my birthday party! There’s just something so exciting about the sense of unease that comes with being scared and so, it seemed fitting that my first post with GradLife McGill should be about fear.

Of course I’m not alone in my love of horror, and perhaps it’s not surprising that my grad student tendencies lead to me wondering why so many of us are drawn to fear. A couple PubMed searches later and it turns out that I’m not alone in my curiosity either.

Researchers have looked at the allure of being scared from many angles and in many disciplines. Some psychologists have theorized that people are drawn to horror as a way to “practice” reacting to real-life situations (1). There’s even research on how horror movies help bond couples on dates (2)! After all, according to data scientists at OkCupid, liking horror movies is the number one predictor of long term relationship success (3). But as a meta-analysis in Media Psychology points out, the love of being scared might all come down to the way we interpret our reactions (4). In other words, some of us are drawn towards fright because we also experience excitement that we interpret as pleasurable; this also helps to explain why, although we all get scared, only some of us enjoy it.

I personally identify with the pairing of fear and excitement. I’d even add that fear can also be a powerful source of motivation; it’s just a matter of pointing that motivation in the right direction. Four years ago, the idea of moving across the country and starting a graduate degree and a new life away from everything I knew was absolutely petrifying, but it was also exciting. I used that feeling of terror in the pit of my stomach to push me towards my goals and, although it’s definitely not been easy, it was the right choice.

My grad school life, like many others, is full of situations that scare me. Whether it’s starting a new experiment with my hypothesis on the line, or taking on the mentorship of an eager, impressionable undergraduate, the excitement of what could happen is always accompanied by a vein of fear. So while I sit here surrounded by glowing jack-o-lanterns and with a classic horror movie playing in the background, I’m reminding myself to embrace my fears, and to use them to make the most of opportunities as they come along.

After all, grad school is terrifying. But maybe that’s why I’m here.

IMG_20161028_213938 (2)


Works cited:

1Christian Jarrett (2011). The lure of horror. The Psychologist. 24:812-815

2Zillmann et al. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3): 586-594.

3 Rudder, Christian (2014). Dataclysm: who we are when we think no one’s looking. New York, New York: Crown Publishers.

4Hoffner and Levine (2005). Enjoyment of Mediated Fright and Violence: A Meta-Analysis. Media Psychology, 7: 207-237

What do you mean you don’t understand my Halloween costume?


Photo Credits: Sean Anderson

Halloween has just come and gone, and like every year, the question on everybody’s mind is: so, who had the best costume? And like every year, the answer is the same: clearly, I did.

Do let me explain.

First, sure, yes, I admit, mine was far from the best (I saw some pretty amazing ones, actually), but if I wanted to show you all the other great ones I’d have to track down a whole lot of people for the authorisation to post their pictures, so I’ll stick to myself here (and since this is my first post, I guess this serves as an introduction, too).

There’s basically two ways to a good costume: the Heidi Klum way, which takes a lot of money and time, and the student way, which can usually afford neither. As a consequence, concept and commitment become the yardsticks of greatness. (more…)

A Practical Guide to Halloween in Canada

*by peasap

Although Halloween has become more popular in Europe, for me it remains a very North American rite. This has been only my second Halloween season on the new continent, but I feel like I am ready to write a practical guide to Halloween, covering some essential knowledge for the newcomer.

Let’s start with the most important thing about Halloween: the costume. Now, responsible grad students might ask: “Do I really need to spent time thinking about a suitable costume and dress up?” And my answer is: Yes! Just switch off your brains and follow the mainstream! Also, it is a great opportunity to take the role of one of your childhood heroes or anyone else you would like to imitate for one evening.

The first thing I have discovered about Halloween is that costumes do not necessarily have to be scary. In fact probably about 80% of costumes don’t have anything to do with scary creatures of the zombie type popularly associated with Halloween. I’ve also learned that creativity rules on Halloween. Don’t just go into a store and buy the next-best-costume. Instead, make up something halfway new and possibly build your own costume. Apart from the fact that it is usually cheaper to make a costume instead of buying one, it’s just more fun and you can use your presumably immense creativity on something other than research!

In case you decide to make you own costume, here are what I consider to be the important guidelines, based on experiences with my own costumes in the past.

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