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Why are some people drawn to danger?

Updated Tuesday, 9th August 2005

Kriss Akabusi likes to live life in the fast lane. For him the thrill of driving a fast car makes his adrenaline levels rise and his heart beat quicker. It’s a risk he loves to take. Ever Wondered sent him out to find out why people take a chance in different ways

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Kriss Akabusi

Kriss decides to try his luck at Loughborough’s racing track…

Kriss: Now looking at the track it’s quite small. Is there any risk involved?

John Sadler: There’s always a risk involved, these cars are capable of 180 mph. There’s always a chance something can go wrong, some of the corners are quite fast. If you have too much power coming out the corner you can end up in a field.

Kriss: I love a buzz, I know what an adrenaline rush feels like. But what’s going on inside my body? That calls for an experiment…

Dr David Stenser Dave, you’re from Loughborough University Sports Science Department, can you tell me what’s going on in my body and how are you able to monitor it?

Dr David Stenser: What I’m going to do is put a simple heart rate monitor on to you, this is going to pick up the electrical activity of your heart, and the watch is going to receive the signal from the heart and it’s going to record your heart rate in beats per minute at 15 second intervals throughout the drive. I’m not really sure what we are going to see. I know that you’ve driven fast cars before so maybe it won’t be such a novelty for you compared to novice drivers.

Kriss Akabusi: Well, let’s see how cool I really am…

Inside Car Kriss: Man! That’s fantastic. Absolutely exhilarating, the fulfilment of boyhood dream. But, John, how did I do.

John Sadler: Pretty good, Kriss. Each lap you got smoother, tidier, got your lines through the corners better, excellent drive mate, well done.

Kriss: Good man, thank you. But what about my heartbeat?

Dr David Stenser: Well, Kris, if I can just show you here, this is a graph of your heart beat, we see that at rest the normal level is about 70/80 beats per minute. Just before getting into the car there was anticipatory rise in your heart rate, up to about 100/110 beats per minute.

Car Then when you actually started driving, we saw a further increase in your heart rate, and at times your heart rate was hitting 120/125 beats per minute. Interestingly if we look at the instructors heart rate, he actually had a higher resting heart rate than you did, his values were 80 or 90, but when he gets into the car, when he’s sitting with you driving we see that his heart rate came down, perhaps it’s a compliment to your driving!

Kriss: So how are we going to explain the data that we’ve actually collated now ?

Looking at reading Dr David Stenser: Well, if we think about evolution we could say that this increase in heart rate typifies the fight or flight response. This is the type of response where when we’re in a threatening or a stressful situation, we get an increase in adrenaline levels and that drives up the heart rate so that the body can run, or can stay and fight. And we’re seeing that this is still happening today, it was happening to you in the car and perhaps with extreme levels of driving it happens to a greater extent.

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So Kriss got his kicks from driving in a Ferrari, but not all people get their enjoyment from terra firma, some like to go to the extreme…

Kriss swimming Kriss: I am at HMS Dolphin, and this is a specially constructed deep water tank where our naval submarine personnel do their accident and emergency drills. It’s also where our UK free divers do their diving training to go deep, deep on down.

Kriss: Nick and Lee you are going to dive for us, but where’s the equipment? Nick MacLaughlan and Lee Donnelly

Lee Donnelly: We’re wearing it, we don’t wear any more than mask, fins and a snorkel.

Kriss: So how does that work then?

Lee Donnelly: Free Diving is just breath held diving, so we just take as much air as we can at the surface and then dive down as deep as we can.

Kriss: So Nick, what risks are involved?

Nick MacLaughlan: The most common accident is shallow water blackout, luckily it’s not that common, but it’s when you blackout on the way up, you lose consciousness. That usually happens at the surface or near the surface.

Lee Donnelly: Basically what’s happening is your body has run out of oxygen, so you literally just black out.

Kriss: Dr. David Hardman, you’re our risk psychologist. Tell me, why are these guys doing this?

Dr David Hardman

Throughout history people, and men in particular, have been engaging in dangerous pursuits such as this. In ancient societies, people perhaps got their status from being aggressive warriors, but in our rather sedentary western world, you know we can’t do that and so this gives us a substitute. What Nick and Lee get out of it, is a thrill, excitement, they’re meeting some kind of challenge, but if something did go wrong, they would be in big trouble.

Freedivers underwater Kriss: Wow guys, I can’t believe it. You’ve been there for ages. What are your records.

Lee Donnelly: My personal best is 50 metres, but the current world record for the sort of diving we’ve been doing today is 81 metres.

Kriss: Why do you do it, where do you get your buzz?

Lee Donnelly: It’s just a great feeling a great sensation being down there, if you’re in the open sea, it’s a clear day, the water is blue, it’s extremely peaceful down there. It’s very relaxing and you have to be relaxed to do the dive

Kriss: But how do you train for this kind of sport?

Lee Donnelly: Lots of running, cardiovascular fitness is very important, I also do a lot of yoga, which really helps.

Kriss: when do you know that enough is enough?

Nick MacLaughlan: Well your body’s giving you signals all the time you’re down there. It will be telling you when to breath, but we learn to ignore that to a certain extent, eventually your diaphragm will spasm, and then you have to come up.

So that’s where the real risk is involved, the fact is that you are actually pushing limits, you’ve got to make that call and sometimes you can actually miss that call.

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

Books you can read

Dangerous Games: Ice Diving, Storm Kayaking, and Other Adventures from the Extreme Edge of Sports, Andrew Todhunter, Doubleday Books; ISBN: 038548643X

The Ultimate Encyclopaedia of Extreme Sports, Joe Tomlinson, Carlton Books; ISBN: 1858681928

Lessons from the Edge : Extreme Athletes Show You How to Take on High Risk and Succeed, Maryann Karinch, David Brooks, Fireside Books; ISBN: 0684862158

Scuba Diving, Colin Brittain, The Crowood Press; ISBN: 1861262795

Links You Can Surf

Motor Sports Association

Also on this site: You can join Raj Persaud as he explores the meaning of risk and Alvin Hall as he weighs up the odds of financial risk down at the dog track.

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

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