Scared to Death: The Science Behind Who and What We Fear

Clowns. Confined spaces. Heights. Spiders. What do these things share? They are common fears.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, phobias affect approximately 10% of adults. In many cases fears and phobias lead to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and breathlessness. In some cases, these symptoms escalate into a full-blown panic attack.

Join The Leonardo and the Utah Science and Technology Research initiative (USTAR) on Friday, October 25, as they present the next episode of Leonardo After Hours, SCARED TO DEATH: The Science Behind Why and What We Fear.

The event will begin at 6:00 p.m. at the Leonardo in downtown Salt Lake City and will examine the psychology behind fear while also addressing our nature to seek out the things that scare us for entertainment.

Enjoy a multimedia journey through the mysterious realm of fear.  What happens inside your brain and body? Do men and women fear differently? When does normal become neurotic? And why do we seek out the scary? Join local experts Ryan Bown, Russell Costa, Lauren A. Loberg and Cydney Neil and a live audience to explore the dark passages of fear.

Bown, an assistant professor in Entertainment Arts Engineering at the University of Utah (U of U) also served as the art lead for the video game Erie.  Described as a first person horror game that meets an intense dark ride, this visually stunning and terrifying game propels players to investigate, survive and escape. Bown helped develop Erie as part of the Master of Fine Arts program at the U of U capstone project and now teaches in the same program. He has also worked with Disney Interactive Studios in Salt Lake City in gameplay design and scripting.

As an assistant professor in Neuroscience Honors at Westminster College, Costa will be able to talk about the effects of fear on the body and on brain chemistry. The focus of his work centers on the way individuals switch between and divide their attention among multiple tasks and stimuli.  Originally from Boston, he attended graduate school at the U of U before joining the faculty at Westminster College.

Loberg began her athletic career as a gymnast and then became a diver and competed for UCLA, (University of California Los Angeles) graduating in 1997.  She received a MS in sport psychology from the University of Utah, a MS in mental health counseling and a PhD in sport psychology, both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  She is also the sport psychology consultant and director of athlete career and education for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.  She will address overcoming fear in difficult and varied situations.

As the final member of the panel, Neil will provide firsthand knowledge of fear as a form of entertainment. She is the president of Cydney C. Productions and the former creative director of Rocky Point Haunted House which she ran for more than 20 years. In fact, her haunted house was named number one in America by several national publications and led to her being named the Queen of Haunts by Fright Times magazine.

Leonardo After Hours is a joint production of The Leonardo and the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR). The quarterly events explore science and technology in society through the lens of local innovation, and are made possible with generous support from CH2MHill.

WHEN: Fri. Oct 25, 6pm – 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

WHERE: The Leonardo, 209 East 500 South

COST: Event is FREE; Small plates and beverages available for purchase

RSVP: Space is limited. To RSVP, please visit

or call 801/531-9800 ext. 202 to register.