Spooky Sound II: The Summoning

October 23, 2017 | Science

Psychology profs return to Deadmonton in sequel to last year’s infrasound research


Just when you thought it was safe to go back… Two psychology professors are returning to the scene of the crime to continue researching how infrasound impacts feelings of fear.

Last year’s victims—er, volunteers—were sent through Deadmonton after hours. The haunted house’s creator, Ryan Kuzor, opened the creaky doors again this year at the old Paramount Theatre on Jasper Avenue to help the researchers answer more questions.

“We found that if people were exposed to infrasound, they went through Deadmonton faster,” says Dr. Rodney Schmaltz, who is partnering with Dr. Nicole Anderson. “What we didn’t find was any difference in reports of how fearful they found the experience, and we think the reason why is that when people were exposed to infrasound, it rushed them through.”

Related: Spooky sound: Psychology research set in Deadmonton haunted house

Lurking in the shadows, Rodney and volunteer researcher Tristan Eckersley (psychology alum) watched as the volunteers who were exposed to infrasound raced through the experience two minutes faster than those who were not exposed. “They put their heads down, just rushed through and then said things like ‘whew, that wasn’t too bad!’” recalls Rodney.

Devil in the details

Each volunteer was sent to explore Deadmonton alone, wearing equipment to monitor their physiological responses as they ventured through the spooky space. The only difference between each person’s experience was whether the infrasound equipment, strategically placed throughout the haunted house, was turned on or off.

Tristan says that interestingly enough people couldn’t actually tell when the infrasound equipment was on. “More often than not, they would guess it was on during their visit, but it was equally as likely to be on or off.”

In this year’s study, each person was asked to stay inside Deadmonton for 15 minutes.

“We thought if we required them to spend a set amount of time there, they were going to have to look around a bit, and that might generate self reports of fear,” says Rodney.

The volunteers aren’t exploring a cheesy, carnival-style haunted house either, says Rodney. Deadmonton takes inspiration from the big-business haunted houses popping up across the United States. The devil is in the details, and researchers hope that the longer the volunteers spend in the house, the more attention they will pay to the horrific props surrounding them.

“If they hit the end before 15 minutes is up, then they can go back,” he says. “We’re going to see where they spend their time and if they spend more or less time around where the infrasound is placed.”

Summoning Frankie

This year’s theme for Deadmonton is “The Summoning”—inspired by Frankie, a former caretaker who is said to haunt the Paramount Theatre.

“Supposedly it’s haunted,” says Rodney, who also teaches a course on pseudoscience. In past years, he and his students have visited haunted locales in Edmonton. “Basically, the role of the ghost hunt is to debunk what you see on ghost hunting TV shows. My class is going to go to Deadmonton to search for the ghost that is supposedly there.”

“ Some people believe in ghosts and some don't.” 
Rodney Schmaltz

So, could knowing about Frankie’s “presence” affect the study’s volunteers?

“If people knew the site could be haunted, it wouldn’t have an impact because people are randomly assigned to the infrasound conditions,” explains Rodney. “Some people believe in ghosts and some don’t. We have a large enough sample that, of the people who are exposed, some will be believers and some will not.”

While studying how people react to the Deadmonton experience is fun, Tristan says the ultimate goal is to publish the research.

“The early results of the study are encouraging, and we hope to publish this research in the near future,” says Tristan. “We will also present our findings at MacEwan’s Student Research Day and look at other conferences where we can share. It’s pretty interesting stuff—no one has really looked at the impact of infrasound in this way before.”

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