Why do some people seek high risk activities

Published 17 May 2017

Extreme sports and extreme activities are high risk activities. These are activities that has a very real danger of fatality and accidents are numerous and often life threatening. These activities could range from white water rafting; sky diving, bungee jumping, even bicycle and car racing. The following are characterized by defying stunts, a high level of skill, state of the art equipments and safety precautions but people despite the imminent danger to their safety still seek out and participate in high risk activities. What does high risk activities offer to the individual that keeps them coming back to it and even become dedicated athletes to the sport? And are there specific types of persons who are more predisposed to engage in high risk activities?

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There are theories that may explain the perception of risk and the physiological changes that are part of risk taking, to take risks and to shun away from risks. Psychoanalytic theories emphasize that safety needs are a basic and instinctual to the individual, thus the natural reaction to risks should be of aversion, thus those who seek out risks are seen to be illogical and pathological, however as we know all of us may engage in some form of risk taking behavior and that this claims have been found to be inconclusive (Franken,1998 p.43). A biological perspective says that all of us are programmed to take risks for us to survive, reminiscent of the principle of survival of the fittest, if we consider it; we are biologically wired to be risk takers. And the modern theories imply that individual differences can account for the fact that there are people who are risk takers and why some of us are not. It has been said that people who are risk takers are high on sensation seeking personality traits (Block, 1995, p.191). This means that some people seek out high risk behaviors because they personally choose to.

Risk refers to the possibility of failure in a certain activity, decision or endeavor. In the past risk have been thought in accordance with business risks and management strategies, but it has also been used to describe the dangerous activities and behavior that people engage in. High risk behaviors are those behaviors that endanger a person’s life, like smoking, drug abuse, alcohol, and sexually active lifestyle. The said behavior increases the likelihood of death or sickness. On the other hand, high risk activities are legitimate activities that places an individual in the brink of danger, which in normal circumstances an individual may come out of it unscathed, but has a high possibility of being injured and accidents can happen all the time.

There are three ways to approach risks as posited by Lykken (1982, p. 23), there are risk avoiders, those who avoid risk because of the high risk it involves, then there are the risk reducers, those who engage in the activity even if there are risks involved and the risk optimizers, who want to participate in the activity precisely because of the risks. This assumption presupposes that there are personality types that are more prone to seek out high risk activities and these are the risk optimizers, they are in it because it is risky and it gives them excitement.

The foremost characteristic of high risk activities is the adrenaline rush that it gives to the individual, a feeling of intense excitement and arousal (Cogan & Brown, 1999, p. 505). The experience of the “rush” is what motivates people to take the challenge of high risk activities. However, the “rush” is not the only reason; instead there are hosts of situational and personal factors that motivate individuals. One of this is the influence of the peer group and a risk taking personality as well as the feeling of achievement and accomplishment in mastering the sport or skill involved in the high risk activity.

Generally, young adults and adolescents are more likely to engage in high risk activities (Cohn, et.al., 1995, p. 217). Adolescents are often said to be impulsive and does not seem to care whether the activity is risky or not. It is evident that teenagers who are bored, needs a lot of action and movement. They can benefit from high risk activities to expend their energies. When they are in sports like rock climbing and biking, they get to experience social interaction, be responsible for their actions and even learn sportsmanship. It could also be a means of testing their limits just like any other teenager, and is often a step in discovering who they are and what they can and cannot do. On the other hand, young adults engage in high risk activities because they are in it because of their self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1997, p. 34). They believe that they can accomplish the activity without any adverse consequences.

In conclusion, people seek high risk activities because it offers them heightened emotions akin to the fight or flight adrenaline rush, it is a means of proving oneself to others and to be accepted by the peer group, and it can be simply because they want to and they are compelled to do so by their own beliefs of efficacy and mastery. High risk activities are not entirely bad or negative, it just has risks that may cost a persons life or health.


  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  • Block, J. (1995). A contrarian view of the five factor approach to personality description. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 187-225.
  • Cogan, N., & Brown, R.. (1999). Metamotivational dominance, states and injuries in risk and safe sports. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 503-518.
  • Cohn, L., Macfarlane, S., Yanez, C., & Imai, W.K. (1995). Risk perception: Differences between adolescents and adults. Health Psychology, 14, 217-222.
  • Franken, R.E. (1998). Human motivation (4th ed.). London: Brooks Cole Publishing Company.
  • Kohler, M.P. (1996). Risk-taking behaviour: A cognitive approach. Psychological Reports, 78, 489-490.
  • Lykken, D.T. (1982). Fearlessness: Its carefree charm and deadly risks. Psychology Today, September, 20-28.
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