Travel Fund Spotlight: Coltan Scrivner

  Coltan is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Comparative Human Development and a Fellow of the Institute for Mind and Biology, with a background in cultural anthropology, biology, and forensics. Currently, his research focuses on how people behave when engaging with violence and fear.

Coltan is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Comparative Human Development and a Fellow of the Institute for Mind and Biology, with a background in cultural anthropology, biology, and forensics. Currently, his research focuses on how people behave when engaging with violence and fear.

As we review Travel Fund applications, we often come across applicants who are doing some very interesting research, and we are glad to share some of their stories with you! This week, we interview Coltan Scrivner, who used GC Travel Funding to travel to be a visiting researcher at the Interacting Minds Center at Aarhus University in Denmark.

GC: "Tell us about your work!"

Coltan: "In my work I try to understand how and why people engage with two things that, seemingly, people would want to avoid - violence and fear. Although they carry negative connotations, many people are attracted to these two things, consciously or otherwise, and may even indulge in them when the risk is perceived as low. A great example of this is the haunted house industry. Each October, Americans spend around $300 million on haunted attractions. To better understand why people might pay to be scared, I traveled to Denmark to work with a team from the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University. Both imaginative and active, haunts allow people to bond with others through mechanisms curiously similar to play seen in other areas of human life. In this project we tested the idea that some individuals enjoy the haunt more because they perceive it to be comfortably unpredictable, as opposed to uncomfortably unpredictable (too frightening) or predictable (too boring). We suspect there will be a sweet spot, so to speak, in scariness that maximizes the perception of the haunt as a form of play. We are currently analyzing heart rate data and facial expressions captured during the haunt to better understand how people engage playfully with fear."

 "We are currently analyzing heart rate data and facial expressions captured during the haunt to better understand how people engage playfully with fear."

"We are currently analyzing heart rate data and facial expressions captured during the haunt to better understand how people engage playfully with fear."

Q: "What is the most challenging part of your research?"

Coltan: "The most challenging part of my research is trying to best capture the real world experience without giving up too much experimental control. Science is often split into 'lab' and 'field' research. In an attempt to bridge these two methods, we took the lab to the field in order to create a more authentic experience for the participants and to capture more ecologically valid data."

Aarhus Park.jpg

Q: "What was the best part of your experience in Denmark?"

Coltan: "The best part of my experience in Denmark, aside from the wonderful food, the beautiful scenery, and the nicest people I've ever met, was seeing how to do truly interdisciplinary research and do it well. The Interacting Minds Centre (IMC) was a wonderful hub for scholars from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, neuroscience, religious studies, philosophy, psychology, and others. Currently, the IMC is very interested in defining and understanding what it means to 'play.' By bringing people together from very different backgrounds, they have been able to perform some truly groundbreaking and fascinating research on the topic."

Q: "What did you learn on your trip? What made the biggest impression on you?"

Coltan: "Being exposed to so many scholars from so many different fields and places around the world helped expose me to a wide variety of ideas. It's difficult to pin down 'what I learned' (aside from how difficult it can be to take the lab into the field!). However, I would say that I learned how important it is to think more broadly about questions I'm researching and how invaluable other disciplines can be in helping to define my concepts, test my hypotheses, and interpret my data."

Aarhus Street.jpg

Q: "How did the Graduate Council Travel Fund help you most traveling to Aarhus University?"

Coltan: "While the IMC was kind enough to host me for a month, I still needed to find funding for my plane ticket to Denmark. Because this wasn't traditional conference or workshop travel, many funding routes were not available. The Advanced Travel Fund through the Graduate Council was the only travel fund I could find that was willing to accommodate this unique experience. Without the Advanced Travel Fund, I would not have been able to travel to Aarhus and work on this project."

Q: "What advice would you give to other graduate students who may be thinking of applying to the Travel Fund?"

Coltan: "Because my travel wasn't the kind that might typically be funded, I first emailed the Graduate Council to see if my travel would qualify for funding. If I hadn't done this, I probably wouldn't have ended up applying for the advanced fund. My advice to other students who are considering applying to the Travel Fund would be to keep an open mind and don't be afraid to ask if your funding needs are appropriate for the Travel Fund."

Thanks, Coltan! Check back later for more stories from the Travel Fund.