Risk through the eyes of risk takers
Last modified: 29-03-2020
Talking with my skydiver friends, I got the impression that some of them do not appreciate the risk involved in practicing this sport, thinking that you can also harm yourself at home or walking along the street. This led me to wonder how generally people who engage in various risky sports approach the dangers associated with them and because I did not find any research on this subject, I decided to investigate it myself.
I conducted a survey on the internet among people who practice so-called “extreme sports” and people who do not practise such sports, asking them to assess the risks associated with the six sports I chose. I asked two questions: the assessment of how probably it is to get when practicing these sports an injury, which will result in a visit or stay in a hospital and how probably it is to suffer an accident that will result in permanent disability or death. The respondents marked the answer on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 meant that it was difficult and unlikely, and 7 that it was easy and very likely.
I chose the following sports for the study:
The choice was not accidental – the sports can be divided into two groups:
Group 1 – BMX, freeride and skateboarding – these sports are easily accessible. You do not have to take any course to start practising them, all you have to do is buy equipment. These sports, including accidents, are often shown on television on the Extreme Sports Channel and are usually practiced by young people who do not deny that their sport belongs to extreme sports.
Group 2 – scuba diving, paragliding, skydiving – to start these sports, you must undergo a course that teaches you, among other things, how to deal with emergency situations and prevent accidents. They are practiced more often by people over 30 and it seems to me that they usually do not do it for risk, but more despite it. These sports are considered extreme by many unrelated people, but people who practice them often deny it. This was even evident during the test. On the diving, paragliding and parachute forum, on which I put a link to the survey, I got questions and comments about the classification of these sports to “extreme”, but no one paid any attention to this for the sports from group 1.
In the research, I wanted to check how different people will assess the risks associated with “their” sport in relation to the risk associated with other sports. I had the hypothesis that people from the 2nd group will judge “their” sport as less dangerous than sports from the 1st group, while people from the 1st group will assess the risk in “their” sport as higher or the same as the risk in other sports. I was also interested in how people from group 2 will perceive the risk associated with other sports from the same group, but I had no hypothesis in this respect. It also seemed to me that the control group, ie. people who do not practice any sports, will assess the risk in sports from the 2nd group as higher than those practicing these sports, and the risk in sports from the 1st group at the same level as people practicing them.
What turned out? My hypotheses about the difference in the perception of my sport in relation to other sports proved difficult to verify, because it turned out that many people have “their” sports more than one. The survey was completed by a total of 656 people, of whom 550 practice at least one of the mentioned sports, and 106 do not practice any. Among the “athletes” 153 rides BMX, 208 freeride, 181 skateboards, 176 scubadives, 230 paraglides and 183 jumps with a parachute. However, when I took into account only those who practice only one sport, it turned out that there are 10 people from the BMX group, freeriders – 12, skateboarders – 31, divers – 37, paragliders – 70, and skydivers – 49. That is why I took only skateboarders, divers, paragliders and skydivers to check the differences in the perception of “my” sport versus the others. I did not check the opinion of the other two groups because I thought that they were too few. I did not check also, as I intended, the differences in the perception of risk in people with different experience, because the groups were too small to separate them into subgroups varied by experience.
The statistics showed that in the question about the risk of injury, in fact both divers, paragliders and skydivers assess the probability of being taken to the hospital while practicing their sport, as lower than when riding a BMX, skateboarding or freeriding. In the question about the risk of disability or death, there is no such regularity. In general, interesting results came out when it comes to the perception of the risk of injury vs disability or death, but I will write about it further. The hypothesis was not confirmed that people practicing sports from the 1st group assess their risk as higher or equal to other sports. Only in the case of the risk of getting injured during scubadiving, the group of skateboarders rated this risk as lower than when skateboarding. In relation to other sports and in the question about the probability of an accident resulting in disability or death, skateboarders rated skateboarding as equally or less risky than other sports. These and some other results indicate that perhaps all groups of “athletes” perceive risk in their sport as lower than in other extreme sports. A group of skateboarders thinks that skateboarding causes less injuries than skydiving, and a group of skydivers that skydiving causes less injuries than skateboarding. In the group of skydivers there is no statistically significant difference between the perception of risk of disability or death in diving and parachuting, while divers clearly indicated more often in this question that diving is less dangerous than skydiving. Similarly, a group of skateboarders thinks that skateboarding is just as dangerous as paragliding, but paragliders think that paragliding is less dangerous than skateboarding. Such differences, however, are only in these three pairs of results, in most all four groups of athletes similarly assessed the probability of injury or a serious accident.
Interesting are the differences in the parachutists’ perception of the risk of skydiving in comparison to other sports and, in the opinion of the same, by non-users of extreme sports. The skydivers themselves assessed the probability of disability or death in skydiving as equal to the probability of freeriding, diving and paragliding, and higher than in skateboarding and slightly higher (statistically significant at p <0.1) than in BMX. However, the group of “unsportsmen” perceives the risk of disability or death in parachuting, as clearly higher than in all other sports. Their responses are statistically significant at p <0.001, which means that the probability that such results are a chance is less than 0.1%. Also in the question about the risk of injury, the control group assessed the risk in skydiving apparently higher than the skydivers themselves. In the case of paragliders, divers and skateboarders, there are not so big differences between how they perceive the risk in their sport, and how it is seen by people unrelated to extreme sports.
The above results, as I wrote, take into account the answers of only people who practice one sport and there are no bikers’ answers among them. Because many people from group 1 practice at least two sports from the same group, and the same in group 2. often combine two or three sports from this group, I divided all the subjects into four groups:
Group 1 – people who practice at least one sport in group 1 (BMX, freeride, skateboarding)
Group 2 – people who practice at least one sport in group 2 (scubadiving, paragliding, skydiving)
Group 3 – people who have at least one sport in group 1 and at least one from group 2
Group 4 – people who do not practice any of these sports
In group 1 there were 150 people (130 men and 20 women). As predicted, these are mainly young people, 75% of this group are under 20 years old. Group 2 is a total of 245 people, of which 205 are men and 40 women. 71% of this group are people over 30 years of age. Group 3. consists of 155 people (143 men and 12 women) of different ages, and group 4 of 106 people, of which 25 are men and 81 women. 63% of them are in the age group of 21-30.
I compared these groups with each other and that’s what turned out: Group 2, in which there are no freeriders, thinks that the risk of injury when practicing a freeride is higher than according to group 1. In the case of parachuting, group 1, in which there are no skydivers, perceives the risk as higher (both in terms of injuries as well as disability and death) than group 2. This supports the hypothesis of evaluating your sport as less risky, but on the other hand, in the case of diving, the 2nd group, which includes divers, among others, assessed the risk in both questions as higher than the group 1 did. The remaining sports of both groups rated similarly. Group 3 turned out to be very similar to group 2, i.e. between groups 1 and 3 there are the same differences as between 1 and 2, and between groups 2 and 3 there are absolutely no statistically significant differences.
There are, however, many differences between group 4 and the other groups. In general, in no question about any sport, group 4 rated risk as lower than other groups. Group 1 and Group 4 perceive the same risk of injury when riding a BMX, risk of disability or death during a freeride and the risk of injury, disability and death while practicing parachuting. In the remaining dimensions, group 4 assesses risk as higher than group 1. Group 4 responses are similar to those of Group 2. Only the freeride and scubadiving the group of the “noathletes” sees as just as risky as according to group 2. In the case of other sports, at least in one of two questions, group 4 indicated higher answers than group 2. Group 3, compared to Group 4 falls very similar to Group 2. The clearest differences in ratings between groups 2 and 4 relate to parachuting. This fact and the lack of differences in the perception of skydiving by groups 1 and 4 indicates a large difference in the perception of the risk associated with parachuting by people who practice them compared to people who do not. People who do not skydive assess the risk in this sport for higher than skydivers. Risk assessment by people who practiceonly skydiving compared to “noathletes”, as I wrote above, also shows these differences. Only in the case of parachute jumps these differences are so visible.
Finally, about the perception of the risk of getting to the hospital and the risk of an accident resulting in disability or death in various sports. The differences in this respect are so large that it was already visible before I put the results into the statistical program. Well, in the case of sports from Group 1, i.e. BMX, freeride, skateboarding, people estimate that the risk of injury is higher than the risk of disability or death, while in the case of Group 2 – diving, paragliding and skydiving, that the probability of disability or death is higher than injury. This is what think people who practice at least one sport in Group 1, who practice at least one of Group 2, practice sports from two groups and do not practice any extreme sports. In paragliding and parachuting, it seems to me that it is obviously untrue, which is why I was surprised by such answers, especially among people from Group 2. Although in the group of people practicing only paragliding there is no statistically significant difference between assessing the risk of injury and disability or death in paragliding, and the same for those engaged only in parachute jumps, there is no difference in the assessment of skydiving in this respect, but still out of 70 paragliders 23 assessed the risk of disability or death in paragliding higher than the risk of injury and 17 out of 49 jumpers higher assessed the risk of disability or death than injuries in skydiving. When I counted the answers of all 183 jumpers, that is, including those who also do some other extreme sport, it turned out that 68 of them believe that it is easier during a skydive to suffer an accident resulting in disability or death than one that will result only in a visit or hospital stay. Such answers among people who do not skydive themselves can be explained by ignorance about the causes of accidents during parachuting. Probably many “noskydivers” think that if the parachute opens, the skydiver safely lands, and if it does not open, he falls to the ground and kills himself. In fact, however, accidents due to equipment failures are very rare. Each skydiver has two parachutes and the probability that it will fail, both main and reserve, is very small. The vast majority of accidents in jumps, more and less serious, occur during landing on a properly open parachute. And every skydiver probably knows it… so why such answers?
I also checked if there are any differences in the perception of risk by people of different ages, but I have not found any interesting differences here.
In summary, what conclusions can be drawn based on the study:
1. People who do not practice extreme sports perceive the risks associated with these sports as higher than those who practice an extreme sport (although this is not certain because in the control group, in contrast to the group of “athletes” there were more women than men, so maybe in general, women perceive the risk as higher? And maybe that’s why there are less of them in extreme sports than men – because these sports seem more dangerous to them than men?)
2. People who do not practice skydiving, even if they practice another extreme sport (from group 1), perceive the risk related to skydiving as higher than skydivers. It is not known, however, whether this is because “noskydivers” overestimate the risk in this sport, or perhaps the skydivers underestimate it. It seems more likely to me that “noskydivers” assesses the risk as higher than it really is, that the skydivers judge it as lower than it really is. But I’m a skydiver, so maybe I underestimate ;) It is also possible that both is true and that is why the difference in the assessment of skydiving by the skydivers themselves and by others is greater than in the case of other sports.
3. In general, people assess that when riding and performing tricks on a BMX or skateboard and while practicing a freeride on a bike it is easier to experience an injury that will result in a visit or stay in a hospital than an accident resulting in disability or death. In the case of scuba diving, paragliding and skydiving, the assessments are reverse.
4. It can be hypothesized that extreme sports people see the risks associated with “their” sport as lower than those associated with other extreme sports, but it is only a hypothesis…
Author: Maja Kochanowska