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Why Men Take Risks for the Ultimate Thrill
Friday Magazine ^ | Mike Peake

Posted on 05/10/2014 2:08:12 PM PDT by nickcarraway

They bring down banks, squander huge fortunes on reckless pursuits and in their spare time are found clinging to vertical rocks or leaping out of aeroplanes – Mike Peake investigates what makes men gamble with their lives, seeking the ultimate thrill

When New Zealand-based forensic psychiatrist Dr Erik Monasterio set out to interview people for a study he was conducting into risk-taking behaviour, 90 per cent of the mountaineers he spoke to were men. For base jumping – the adrenaline-pumping sport where the order of the day is to fling yourself off the top of something high – the figure was 80 per cent. He didn’t go looking for male respondents, he took whoever came his way, which turned out to be guys by the bucketload.

That single fact alone perhaps illustrates better than anything that it is men who are drawn to risk. Whether it’s on the trading floor or strapped to a parachute above a snow-covered mountain, men and risk are as familiar bedfellows as women and romantic comedies, kids and candy. And – unfortunately – skydivers and funeral directors.

In a world that is becoming increasingly risk averse, thrill seekers stand out like sore thumbs. Living by their own set of rules and often at loggerheads with conventional thinking, they actively seek out a route to exhilaration that will provide an alternative to the humdrum of everyday life – even though the act of living out their dreams can all too frequently end in disaster. But what drives them? Why are their numbers growing? And why are women so infrequently a part of their circle?

“We know that testosterone is a hormone linked to risk-taking behaviour,” says Dr Monasterio. “So the preponderance of male participants in extreme sports is partially due to differences in sex hormones. We also know that in general, women tend to be more prone to anxiety, and if you’re more prone to anxiety common sense would suggest that you stay away from risk.”

Related Links Picture for illustrative purposes only. How to control your inner control freak Health care professionals are calling for mental illness services to be more male-friendly by using exercise or computer therapy. Tackling male depression Hormones and chemicals clearly play a part, says Dr Monasterio, but there’s more to it than that. “They’re not determinants,” he says. “They’re just part of a whole range of factors that contribute to risk-taking behaviour.”

A common understanding about extreme risk-takers is that they underestimate the dangers of their activities and think that luck will see them through. Dr Monasterio’s studies, however, have demonstrated this is not true.

“People who do extreme sports know exactly what they’re doing,” says Dr Monasterio, himself an experienced climber who survived his first few years on the mountains with a “self-belief that was disproportionate to my experience”.

“They understand the risks, but they’re fine with them and continue doing it,” he says. “It isn’t just blind optimism that it’s only your mate who’s going to get hurt.”

The key motivating factor, he says, is the thrill itself. The rewards risk-takers get from their extreme behaviour are so significant that they allow them to tolerate the risks.

In other words, you know you might die – or if your risk-taking is done in a bank, you know you might cause a financial meltdown – but you do it anyway.

It’s a challenging concept that makes you wonder if the rest of us, perhaps, are missing out on something. If your biggest exposure to risk to date is an afternoon’s waterskiing or a gentle climb up a challenging hill, might the “high” of extreme, risk-taking behaviour be something you have never even come close to? And just how good is it anyway?

“We are risk junkies!” says Frenchman Loïc Jean-Albert, who broke his back in a paragliding accident in 2007. “It needs a lot of willpower to stop chasing the adrenaline.”

Jean-Albert was one of the pioneers of wingsuit flying – wingsuits being those strange, flappy bodysuits where strips of material link each ankle and also the wrists to the waist – but had to give up his thrill-seeking activities after a near-fatal collision with a rock at 100kph.

He says that coming to terms with a ‘safer’ life was “easy to say, but not so easy to do,” and recalls how seeing the movie Avatar brought home the finality of his decision to quit. “Tears came to my eyes when the guy rode the dragon for the first time,” he says, still greatly affected by the memory. It was a painful reminder that the freedom he once felt from whizzing through the skies with the wind in his face was a thing of the past.

Today Jean-Albert flies helicopters and aeroplanes – which might sound like a risky job to the average person, but not to him. Not that he ever considered life as a wingsuit flyer pro to be dangerous, either.

“Risk was exactly what I was trying to avoid,” he says. And yet everyone in the extreme sports community must wonder when it is their turn for something to go wrong. “Serious accidents amongst base jumpers happen once every 200-300 jumps,” says Dr Monasterio, “And about two-thirds of the jumpers we spoke to had already had a major injury. We asked them how often they thought serious injuries occurred, wondering if they would seriously underestimate, but they were spot on.”

Somewhat paradoxically, perhaps, extreme sportsmen are frequently among the most careful people you could ever hope to meet. When the margins for error are so minuscule, you do everything in your power to try to keep the odds in your favour – and that includes packing up and going home if it doesn’t feel right. “Shane and I dissected every stunt,” says JT Holmes, a base jumper who lost his best friend Shane McConkey in an accident in the Dolomites in 2009. “If each component was something you were comfortable with, you went for it, and if anything wasn’t right, you’d say no. And that happens. You walk away.”

What no one could have foreseen was the perfect storm of bad luck that stopped Shane from opening his parachute in time to stop his freefall that fateful day in the mountains. He died instantly. But JT didn’t quit – though he did think about it – and today makes sure his jumps are more about “quality than quantity”.

For many adrenaline junkies, the pursuit of risky activities seems to be hardwired. And very hard to suppress. “When I was a young mountaineer I needed strong experiences to get a sense of ‘aliveness’,” says Dr Monasterio.

“When I did, I felt rewarded, but only when I really pushed myself and felt like I was living on the edge. It was a sense of inner peace I’ve never had from anything else.”

Interestingly, Dr Monasterio – who interviewed 100 base jumpers for his study, which is about 10 per cent of their worldwide population – has seen parallels between extreme risk-takers and the criminals his work has exposed him to.

“Some of the base jumpers are pretty extreme, almost getting into the domain of pathology where they are slaves to their instinct,” he says.

“The interesting question for me is why do some people choose to express their risk-taking instinct in antisocial ways? Why do some choose crime or violence over extreme sports? And if you push kids towards thrill-seeking sports at an early age, can you push them away from antisocial behaviour?”

Dr Monasterio talks about character traits like “sensation-seeking” and “harm avoidance”, thrill-seekers typically scoring high on the former and low on the latter. Surprisingly, though, extreme sportswomen often score quite high when it comes to harm avoidance – a personality trait that is characterised by high levels of worry, doubt and pessimism. Something utterly at odds with thrill-seeking behaviour, then, and perhaps one of the reasons that the bulk of the world’s risk-takers are men.

It is men bringing down banks (remember Nick Leeson and French stocks trader JérÔme Kerviel?); and it is men – mostly – to be found clinging to vertical rocks or happily leaping out of aeroplanes.

“The popularity of adventure sports is growing exponentially,” says Dr Monasterio, “and I think it’s a reflection of living in an increasingly risk-averse society where we try to control things. In the olden days, men used to go to war and life used to be a lot more uncertain. I think extreme sports help satisfy those instincts.” Some men, he says, simply have a need to “get out there and live adventurously”. And he argues that adventure sports are a very valid way of doing that.

The smart way, of course, is to give in to these desires in as safe a way as possible. If thrill-seeking tendencies are locked into your chemical make-up, denial could prove unbearable. Like forcing a lion to eat broccoli.

“Your instincts need to be expressed,” Dr Monasterio insists. “If you have a young guy who’s strongly drawn towards risk-taking behaviour and he’s sitting there as an accountant, I think it’s likely to fail.

“The best way to is to say, ‘This is how I’m made, I need these experiences and if I’m going to do them I’m going to do them in a way that is not antisocial and also which maximises my chances of survival.”

If the urge is taking you, then maybe you should go for it. Take a leaf out of Omar Samra’s book, perhaps – he was the youngest Arab to climb Everest in 2007, when he was 29. Or turn up at Skydive Dubai, which will let you do a tandem jump from a plane for just Dh1,750 and will even give you a video to prove you really did it. Just remember to smile for the cameras and tell yourself that you’re having fun.

But before you set off don’t you want to ensure you’ve informed your insurance company? And said goodbye to the cat? Maybe that nice afternoon’s waterskiing would have been fine after all.

TOPICS: Hobbies; Sports; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS: males; psychology
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1 posted on 05/10/2014 2:08:12 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

Some people are adrenaline junkies, some aren’t. I certainly was (less so now that I’ve surprisingly made it way past my youthful predictions.)

2 posted on 05/10/2014 2:19:43 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: nickcarraway

I thought that beer was the reason.

3 posted on 05/10/2014 2:25:23 PM PDT by Colorado Doug (Now I know how the Indians felt to be sold out for a few beads and trinkets)
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To: nickcarraway
 photo cutaway.jpg

35 years ago...and still walking.

4 posted on 05/10/2014 2:32:43 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: nickcarraway

With risk comes reward. Not every risky endeavor involves possible death or maiming. Males are the drivers of genetic fitness. We’re more variable, far more geniuses, far more idiots. Women are the moderating force, genetically and so far as risk, although temperamentally this is often reversed, lol, with men being more even keel and women swinging wildly from one extreme to the other.

5 posted on 05/10/2014 2:38:40 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: nickcarraway

Motorcyclists are similar

One has a 38:1 odds ratio for dying per mile driven,
relative to passenger cars

They understand this, but
They love getting out of the cage of steel.

6 posted on 05/10/2014 2:43:51 PM PDT by HangnJudge
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To: gorush

“There I was...thought I was gonna die” how low when you cut away?? To low for a reserve?

7 posted on 05/10/2014 2:47:18 PM PDT by wyokostur
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To: HangnJudge

There are some beautiful street bikes, I’ve been admiring the new Indian Chief Vintage. But, I’m not too keen on that sort of risk. I sold my dirt bike to buy my first car at age 16 and that’s the last one I’ve ever had.

8 posted on 05/10/2014 2:47:59 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: nickcarraway


9 posted on 05/10/2014 2:49:58 PM PDT by grobdriver (Where is Wilson Blair when you need him?)
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To: nickcarraway

Why Men Take Risks for the Ultimate Thrill

Based upon what I see on TV it’s the chicks that do this.

10 posted on 05/10/2014 2:52:19 PM PDT by TalBlack (Evil doesn't have a day job.)
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To: wyokostur

60’ over 5’ of water as it turned out.

11 posted on 05/10/2014 2:53:26 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: nickcarraway’s why I never married.

12 posted on 05/10/2014 2:53:45 PM PDT by SatinDoll (A NATURAL BORN CITIZEN IS BORN IN THE US OF US CITIZEN PARENTS.)
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To: wyokostur
That was way back with the Capewells for cut-away...had many years w/ a square and piggyback rig after that...the middle guy

 photo Untitled-Scanned-03.jpg

and then again, way back, early to mid '70's.

 photo jump.jpg

13 posted on 05/10/2014 3:07:50 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: nickcarraway

It’s just the way men are wired.

We seek risks to expand boundaries in order to better understand, and control what is around us. And sometimes the thrill of it alone gives us the same chemical reaction in our brains.

Men just aren’t into self-preservation like women are. That is why we did the exploring, went to war, and hunted.

14 posted on 05/10/2014 3:20:29 PM PDT by VanDeKoik
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To: nickcarraway

Too bad he didn’t study women risk takers/thrill seekers. Doesn’t every kid get a thrill when they first learn to ride a bike? Learn to ride their first dirt bike? Get their first motorcycle license? Hang glide for the first time? Solo in an airplane? Do their first AFF jump and not that tandem crap? Learn to BASE jump? Learn to jump a skyboard? Childhood is pretty thrilling. Why lose it when you grow up? I guess I’m just a kid at heart living in an adult playground world. My husband will vouch it certainly isn’t from too much testosterone.

15 posted on 05/10/2014 3:29:31 PM PDT by pops88 (Geek chick standing with Breitbart for truth)
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To: pops88

Rode motorcycles my whole life. Am amazed I didn’t fall or die.

Once on a Kawasaki H1-F, I was racing a guy and my front wheel came off the ground over a foot. Scared the crap out of me! I didn’t try to do that! Instinct made me lean fwd FAST!

16 posted on 05/10/2014 4:09:54 PM PDT by bicyclerepair (The zombies here elected alcee hastings. TERM LIMITS ... TERM LIMITS)
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To: bicyclerepair

And every friday night we’d ride our motorcycles to the bar after work and get hammered, then ride them home. Can’t believe I never fell. We were TOASTED after drinking 6 x 24oz beer specials.

17 posted on 05/10/2014 4:11:50 PM PDT by bicyclerepair (The zombies here elected alcee hastings. TERM LIMITS ... TERM LIMITS)
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To: gorush

Those pics made me go find my copy of Skies Call.

18 posted on 05/10/2014 4:13:55 PM PDT by Tijeras_Slim
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To: nickcarraway

I have had the pleasure of sitting beside Ivan Stewart in a SCORE PRO Truck (off road racing) going 100 mph across the open desert outside Plaster city CA, Cartwheeling a Class 10 car in San Felipe through a cactus patch at 70 mph, Mexico, racing a Super Mod II Yamaha SRX snowmobile across frozen Adirondack lakes and hanging out of helicopters photographing off-road racing on the Baja peninsula.

All the psychobabble and such may have a basis in truth. But the answer for me was simple. It is the most fun you can have with clothes on. Although some have been known to race naked ;)

Those days are long gone now and I have other hobbies. Far more sedate ones. Nothing wrong with that either. To each their own.

19 posted on 05/10/2014 4:18:11 PM PDT by Norm Lenhart (How's that 'lesser evil' workin' out for ya?)
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To: nickcarraway; null and void; Shimmer1

I do it for the laughs alone.

Just did the 400 foot drop at Great America.


20 posted on 05/10/2014 4:31:57 PM PDT by Vendome (Don't take life so seriously-you won't live through it anyway-Enjoy Yourself ala Louis Prima)
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