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University of Missouri

Haunted Hypothesis

Undergraduate researchers study fear and stress.


Undergraduate researchers collected saliva samples from haunted house attendees for a study on fear and stress.

Katherine Meidl expected to wash a lot of petri dishes during her first experience in a research lab. But instead she found herself waiting outside the FearFest haunted house with a bunch of test tubes and a question for customers: “Will you spit in this tube?”

Reactions were mixed, but she and two fellow undergraduate researchers, Maggie Urschler and Basima Khan, got the samples they needed.

Under the tutelage of medical school Professor Mark Milanick, the trio of pre‐med students study the effects of fear on stress levels. Staked outside the haunted house, they conducted pre‐ and post‐walk‐through surveys and collected pre‐ and post‐walk‐through saliva samples to measure levels of amylase, an enzyme that helps digest carbohydrates. An increase in stress after a trip through the haunted house, they hypothesize, will result in an increase in salivary amylase levels.

The big‐picture goal of the project is to develop a dipstick that works as an at‐home stress test. But first, they have to make the dipstick (think pregnancy test) change colors based on stress levels. Right now, the colors are blending together.