Psychology Behind Risk-Taking Activities

~by Lindsey Garcia

Adrenaline junkies, thrill seekers, risk takers; you know the type. We all know someone that loves to do anything for a dopamine rush. But why do they do what they do? Why do they constantly participate in activities that most people would refer to as “extreme?”

For example: skydivers. They’re very familiar with the rush and thrill during extreme activities. The feeling of palms sweating, blood racing and your heart jumping out of your chest at 18,000ft in the air, parachute packed into a container on your back, going 120mph towards the ground. What better way to get your heart pumping?

Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman defines sensation-seeking behavior as the need for varied, novel, and complex sensations, as well as experiences and the willingness to make physical and social ventures for the sake of the experience. This approach to life can have an interesting effect: continued pursuit of complex activities inevitably changes the brain, causing these risk-takers to adopt an analytical, predictive mindframe. They learn how to manage risks and prepare for the unexpected, resulting in fast thinking and smart actions. Catch-22 in the best way!

A number of things can affect whether a person ends up on the risk taker side or on the timid side, but there’s evidence that a little risk-taking every now and again is good for almost everyone. Risk-Taking helps build confidence as well as a sense of pride and accomplishment. The chance to actively pursue success is relatively higher in those of us willing to step out of our comfort zones and take on a new challenge. While some people aren’t the adventure seeking type, the ones who are always looking for a lifetime of adventure tend to love the feeling of adrenaline.

Adrenaline comes from the “fight-or-flight” instinct, which kept us alive back when it was survival of the fittest.

Natural adrenaline is beneficial to the body keeping us alert and helping us focus during stressful times. In most cases risk-taking in small doses can be beneficial to your brain and mental health.

Jumping out of a plane causes the amygdala to produce adrenaline which can lead to a quick rush, when this adrenaline is released into the body, your heart rate peaks, which begins boosting oxygen into your brain and muscles. During free fall, as the rush intensifies, the brain sends over some testosterone to the body, boosting one’s physical and mental strength, resulting in higher self esteem and success driven attitude and feelings.

an illustration of dopamine

Dopamine has many functions including telling the brain that there is a potential reward if a threat is overcome.

Stepping back on the ground instantly triggers the release of dopamine, and intense feelings of pleasure. Dopamine is also associated with important roles in your executive functions like motor control, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward.

Adrenaline, in a reasonable amount, is beneficial to the body because it keeps us alert and helps us focus during stressful times.

Silicon Valley Skydiving fun jumpers
Over time, participating in activities that may feel risky can become almost like a habit, which can be beneficial to anyone, but may be especially therapeutic to people overcoming major life events.

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