Affect regulation and risk-taking in extreme sports
Extreme sports are by definition risky, but any such sport can be practiced in a more or less safe way. Some try to minimize the risk, while others undertake activities that are associated with a higher risk of an accident. What distinguishes more risky people?
Taylor and Hamilton noted in 1997 that some people take risks because they try to deal with their negative emotions by, as they call it, escaping self-awareness. According to their concept, they engage in socially unacceptable risky behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or drug use, as it helps them to distract from their emotions and not to think about their bad mood.
Castanier, Le Scanff and Woodman (2010) decided to check whether taking risks in extreme sports can also result from the desire to escape from self-awareness. Their study involved 265 men who practiced downhill skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, paragliding or skydiving. The subjects completed four psychological tests, one of which examined their propensity to take risks. On a scale of 1 to 5, participants rated how much they agreed with the statements: “When practicing my high-risk sport I have sometimes been involved in accidents (during last two years) that are caused by my somewhat irresponsible attitude”, “I think I am very careful and far-sighted when I practice my high-risk sport”, “My friends or colleagues who are experts in the activity think that I take too many risks when I practice my high-risk sport”.
It turned out that people who take more risks have two characteristics. First, they are characterized by the negative affectivity, that is, the tendency to succumb to negative emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, etc. Secondly, they use a self-awareness escape strategy to deal with these emotions. Thus, negative affectivity itself does not correlate with taking more risks. There are different ways to deal with difficult emotions. You can face them, get support from loved ones, take care of your personal development. But some people deal with them by distracting them. By engaging in risky activities, they focus on physical arousal and other positive emotions provided by extreme sports and thus escape from their negative feelings for a while. It is precisely people who practice extreme sport to escape from difficult emotions and bad moods that may be more likely to take more risks when practicing it.
Read also the article “Not every skydiver is a risk taker“, in which I wrote about the temperament and personality traits that distinguish more and less risky people.
Castanier C., Le Scanff C., Woodman T. (2010). Beyond Sensation Seeking: Affect Regulation as a Framework for Predicting Risk-Taking Behaviors in High-Risk Sport. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 32, 731-738.
Author: Maja Kochanowska