Why do people enjoy rollercoaster rides? © Getty Images

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.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.