Why do people enjoy rollercoaster rides?
Woohoo! Thrill seekers love a good theme park even though an enjoyment of danger seems counterintuitive to natural selection.
Asked by: Colin Gray, by email
Some people, especially thrill-seeking extroverts, seem to enjoy rollercoasters because they get to experience the physical sensations of fear while knowing on some level that they are in fact safe (putting aside rare accidents). Psychologists refer to this enjoyment of sensations that are usually considered negative as ‘benign masochism’ and it seems to be a uniquely human phenomenon. In the case of rollercoasters, these sensations are fear-related, but other examples of benign masochism include the enjoyment of sad and scary films, disgusting jokes and painfully spicy chillies. The enjoyment of rollercoasters may be distinct from the pleasure some people get from extreme sports where the fear and risk of danger is entirely real.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.