According to psychologist Eric Brymer, extreme sports are good for you. Far from the realm of the “adrenaline junkie”, true extreme sports require intense focus and offer an opportunity for optimal experiences and even transcendence. Brymer narrowly defines “extreme sports” as one in which the most likely outcome of a mismanaged mistake is death. (While many athletes eschew the term “extreme” when referring to their sport, psychologists such as Brymer use the term to define a certain type of action sport.)
Brymer’s recent study showed that extreme athletes are actually better off than the rest of us. They have lower anxiety, are more independent and self-assertive and have a higher sense of reality. Anyone who takes part in risky action sports will most likely nod their heads in agreement. They will tell you, jumping/climbing/skiing/fill in the blank makes them a better person. My biggest fear is that I will get injured and sick and not be able to ski. Because a non-skiing Kim is an unpleasant beast, I assure you. But maybe it’s more than that. Perhaps, access to mountains and rivers and places to test our boundaries is an essential part of what it means to be human.
Brymer’s findings fly in the face of past research. Most psychologists have lumped sky-diving with gambling, reckless driving, and drug abuse, labeling anyone who participates in these activities as “sensation-seekers.” In essence, extreme athletes are on the same spectrum as heroine addicts, but their fix comes from a different “drug.” These folks need more thrill in part because their dopamine receptors vary in a way that requires a higher dose of fun in order to get the same kick.
Brymer disagrees with this premise. He claims that extreme athletes are not looking for sensation, but other rewards such as a connection to nature and a better understanding of the self. This is big news in the very small world of extreme sport research.
Instead of the NO FEAR mentality so often associated with action sports media, Brymer claims that not only do his subjects feel fear, but that fear is a good thing to have. Fear, claims Brymer, is a clear reminder. It tells you to pay attention. It reminds you that this is important here. You can’t be on autopilot or making status updates on your phone. Not while you’re packing your parachute before jumping off a cliff, and not before kayaking off a thirty-foot waterfall.
This week, I’m interviewing Dr. Brymer on The Edge Radio in hopes to learn more about his fascinating research. Join me on Wednesday at 8am pacific time.
- Risk buster!!! Extreme sports are not about risk (ericbrymer.wordpress.com)
- Why we need to save the Tiger, and how extreme sports can help (ericbrymer.wordpress.com)