We climb mountains that reach further than the clouds, we ski till our thighs burn and run up steep trails until we struggle to catch our breath. Somehow we hate it in the moment but then end up forgetting the pain and we instead remember the thrill. Why do we push our bodies through immense pain that is supposed to be fun? Is it to feel the rush of adrenaline? Or is it to keep our bodies in healthy shape?
To certain people, participating in extreme sports sounds like torture, and they would much rather do anything else, but to some it sounds like heaven. This is because certain people have the personality type known as “sensation-seeking personality.”
According to Psychology Today, “Sensation-seeking, also called thrill-seeking or excitement-seeking, is the tendency to pursue new and different sensations, feelings, and experiences. The trait describes people who chase novel, complex, and intense sensations, who love experience for its own sake, and who may take risks to pursue those experiences”. Pioneering psychologist, Marvin Zuckerman, became the first to label this personality type.
According to Christopher Munsey, reporter for American Psychological Association, “University of Delaware psychology professor Marvin Zuckerman, PhD, and his fellow researchers noticed something unique about the young men volunteering for their sensory-deprivation experiments: Many were free-spirited types, wearing motorcycle jackets and favoring long hair over the close-cropped style still prevalent in those years. Yet it seemed to Zuckerman, initially at least, that the experiment couldn’t have been more dull: Participants lay motionless for hours on an air mattress in a darkened, double-walled soundproof room, the monotony broken only by restroom breaks and cold sandwiches.”
It was found that the participants had previously experienced hallucinations during prior sensory deprivation experiments and were hoping to experience similar sensations. Zuckerman had found that those seeking to participate in these experiments had scored high on a “sensation-seeking scale” that he had then created which measured a person’s desire for thrill and adventure-seeking, experience-seeking, and disinhibition and boredom susceptibility.
The people participating in sensory deprivation experiments had also been found to be deeply satisfied with engaging in extreme sports such as cliff-diving, rock climbing, mountaineering, sky-diving, etc. The adrenaline rush provided by these activities was similar to the sensations felt during the experiments. Zuckerman’s findings significantly aid the theory that people who engage in extreme sports value the feeling of the adrenaline rush over almost anything else.
Not all of those who enjoy participating in extreme sports are thrill-seeking/adrenaline rush junkies. Alli Ham, who enjoys rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking, says that she loves these activities because they “…provide me with a sense of empowerment. I enjoy pushing myself through my boundaries and fear. I don’t believe that I have a thrill-seeking personality because I am terrified of a lot of things and mainly participate in extreme activities for the dopamine rather than the adrenaline.”
To measure what may cause the enjoyment of extreme activities, Washington Post helped to define the Type 2 personality. “This is a reference to a ‘Fun Scale’ often used by outdoor enthusiasts to describe the kind of enjoyment they get from their adventures or misadventures, as the case may be. Type II fun can feel terrible while you’re doing it, like climbing up a mountain on a cold winter’s night or running a 100-mile race, but when it’s over, your memory erases the miserable parts and you would do it again — for fun, of course.”
On the “Fun Scale”, Type 1 is enjoyable while it’s happening. It is considered to be pure, simple fun. This could potentially include powder skiing, laser tag, bouldering. Type 2 fun is described as feeling uncomfortable, maybe even putting you through misery but with enjoyment at the end. An example would be hiking a 14er or running a marathon, and definitely child birth. Type 3 fun is quite literally not fun at all. Not in the moment or after.
According to “Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms & Lingo,” the scale was coined in 1985 by Rainer Newberry, a geology professor at the University of Alaska. He told climber-geologist Peter Haeussler about it, and Haeussler introduced the concept to climber/writer Kelly Cordes, who put it online in a couple of blog posts,” stated Erin Strout with the Washington Post.
The Fun Scale aids to help people define what type of fun they may be feeling. Is it simple enjoyment or is it a little more complex? The Fun Scale also aids in categorizing who (or how many people) identify with a thrill-seeking personality. If a participant enjoys type 2 fun then they may correlate with a “sensation-seeking” personality type.
These thrill-seekers, although society may deem as “immature, reckless, and harmful to themselves/others”, are actually quite beneficial and an important part of our community. These people compose a large part of our paramedics, firefighters, etc- anything that may involve a high pressure situation. We can learn a lot from the people with this personality type, such as to go with the flow and to feel the awe of being alive in the moment.