Why is it so exhilarating to face fear? A study was done in the late 80s that proposed the Idea that our lack of adventure causes us to engage in seemingly high-risk activities, such as cliff diving, hang gliding, or riding roller coasters. The New York Times wrote of the study’s findings:
“Stimulating true danger, roller coasters provide the illusion of mastering a great peril. It is a deeply satisfying feeling in which mock danger provides the exhilaration of self-affirmation.”
Living in our (relatively) civilized society, our minds still innately seek a thrill, so much so that we build machines that simulate the sensation for us. Why are we so quick to get ourselves into a steel contraption to simulate propelling us toward gravity-assisted homicide? Well, It turns out it’s all in our heads.
An analysis of brain chemistry reveals that we are performing at our best when we’re adequately satisfying these innate desires. Risk, danger, and exploration release endorphins, providing decreased feelings of pain; a squirt of endorphins can also produce mild euphoria, decreased appetite, a release of sex-related hormones, and a boost to one’s immune system. In short, high endorphin levels make us feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress. (Bartender! Another round of endorphins, si vous plait….)
Having too few endorphins is, likewise, not helpful. The effects of producing very little dopamine can include irregular sleep and obesity -thanks to an overactive appetite. A simple solution to making one feel good might simply be to get outside, ride a roller coaster, go on a hike, play on a trapese (with the proper safety gear, of course).
Basically, adventure makes you feel more alive. And feeling more alive puts makes us all just a little bit more human, chemically and emotionally. It’s our natural state. But that’s all too easy to forget that in a world filled with office cubicles, wifi, smartphones, social media updates and – the horror! – blogs.
Cecee McDaniel, a student at California State University in Los Angeles, is a Roadmonkey intern.