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Health, Sports & Psychology
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When Is a Risk Not A Risk?

Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2005

Raj Persaud is one of the most successful psychiatrists in the country. He has appeared in numerous programmes and has published many popular pieces in the national press. Ever Wondered sent him out to find out why people are drawn to risk

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Raj Persaud Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Fairground ride "When is a risk not a risk? When it’s a ride on the Vampire? Statistically speaking, riding on scary theme park rides is in fact safer than driving on the road. So, why do we do it?

Well, this is meant to be the ultimate safe thrill. But at times like this, I’m not quite so sure…

Well that was a most amazing experience. Your body has been tricked by this machine, into thinking it’s been facing imminent death from moment to moment. That produces a bigger buzz in terms of the neuro-chemicals that are released than practically any other experience you can have modern life.

Thrill of a fairground ride It’s no accident that the body feels absolutely terrified after a rollercoaster. Rollercoasters have been very carefully designed to maximise the fear experience, and they do this through the sequence of ups and downs. Because of that design, they expose you to fear very rapidly, then take the experience away, then expose you again, then take it away, and by doing that they maximise the experience of fear. Whereas, if a rollercoaster was just one long drop, after a while you would habituate to the experience of fear, and it wouldn’t be quite so frightening, but because it’s so clackety it makes you feel that the rollercoaster is much less safe than it really is.
Top of a ride

But it’s not just about noise. Look at the very structure of the rollercoaster. It’s designed to look much more rickety and unsafe than it really is, and that all adds to this experience of fear. The sheer size of a rollercoaster means that it can be seen for miles around and that means it acts as its own advertisement, drawing crowds in from a long distance away.

One of the other reasons why many people at a theme park appear to be more willing to take risks, could be to do with the crowds, and the impact of crowd psychology. Psychologists have shown that there’s a phenomenon called ’risky shift’, whereby when people are in groups they tend to take more risky decisions than they would do if they were individuals. But how do you keep the thrill of the rollercoaster year after year? This is the challenge that faces all theme park managers, and that’s why you constantly see the arrival of new rides, more extreme rides, all in the attempt to keep that emotional high.

If you would like to learn more about philosophy and how philosophical issues arise in familiar questions about our own nature and situation then have a look at course A211 Philosophy and the Human Situation

If you would like to find out more about these subjects, here are a few suggestions.

Books you can read

Rollercoaster, David Bennett, Aurum Press; ISBN: 1854106325

The Nature of Risk, Justin Mamis, Fraser Pub. Co.; ISBN: 0870341324

Staying Sane, Raj Persaud, Metro Books; ISBN: 1900512386

Crowd Theory as a Psychology of the Leader and the Led, Erika G. King, Edwin Mellen Press; ISBN: 0889466246

Links You Can Surf

Explore why people love going on the rollercoaster

Official rollercoaster site for Great Britain

Information on Raj Persaud

Also on this site: Alvin Hall as he weighs up the odds of financial risk down at the dog track and Kris Akabusi as he speeds in to action to find the answer to risky sports

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University has to offer.

The BBC and the Open University are not responsible for the content of external websites

 

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