Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

A Qualitative Examination of Risk among Elite Adventure Racers

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

A Qualitative Examination of Risk among Elite Adventure Racers

Article excerpt

A substantial amount of research has addressed risk taking and sensation seeking in sport (Bernstein, 1996; Breivik, 1996; Johnsgard & Ogilvie, 1975; Levenson, 1990; Robinson, 1985; Rossi & Cereatti, 1993; Rudestam & Slanger, 1997; Straub, 1982; Yates, 1992; Zuckermart, 1994). According to Zuckerman (1994), sensation seeking is characterized by the search for varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and/or financial risks for the sake of such experiences. Sensation seeking behavior can be seen as the outcome of a conflict between states of anxiety that vary as a function of novelty and appraised risk (Yates, 1990). As some people become more confident through experience at a given task, they may eventually push their limits and seek novel sensations. An individual's personality, genetic predispositions, and social environment are all thought to play a role in a person becoming a sensation seeker or risk taker. (Zuckerman, 1994).

Several psychophysiological and sociological factors help determine whether one develops into a sensation-seeking adult. For example, an increase in the euphoria one experiences while seeking novel experiences is produced partly by the stimulation of dopamine (Weiss, 1987; Zuckerman, 1990). Zuckerman (1994) suggested that high sensation seekers may produce low levels of dopamine. Since dopamine helps generate a sense of satisfaction, high sensation seekers may tend to pursue activities that stimulate dopamine production (Weiss, 1987; Zuckerman, 1994). Zuckerman also stated that the nurturance or non-nurturance by the family unit and/or society for risk taking behavior could support or stifle a chemically predisposed risk taker at childhood.

Zuckerman (1994) also addressed the relationship between risk taking and sensation seeking, and noted that high sensation seekers are generally risk takers. He defined risk taking as "the appraised likelihood of a negative outcome or behavior" (p. 124). High sensation seekers fred that the sensations they experience are worth any potential risks, whereas low sensation seekers do not necessarily value or tolerate the sensations achieved through risky activities. Further, low sensation seekers seldom consider high-risk activities as being worth the perceived risks. Zuckerman (1994) stated that in addition to general motivational or emotional traits, risk taking choices depend on the motivational and emotional states of the individual at the time of the decision to participate in an activity. He believed that risk is necessary for sensation seeking to occur but that risk itself is not necessarily the fully intended goal of a sensation seeker. Choosing risk for the sake of risk is not the goal. Rather, while being attracted to activities that offer novel or intense experiences, sensation seekers are willing to accept the potential risks involved.

Zuckerman (1994) also suggested that personality traits and chemical predispositions in sensation seekers allow them to take on situations and physical challenges that push their comfort zone and elevate their experience level. The more risk experiences sensation seekers acquire, the more comfortable they feel with perceived risk. What a high sensation seeker perceives as low risk, a low sensation seeker may believe is high risk or even dangerous, and as Zuckerman notes, high sensation seekers accept higher risks to reach their goals.

In contrast to personality trait examinations, or strictly biological explanations of sensation seeking and risk, numerous studies have also addressed the psychological and sociological aspects of risk in sport and perceptions of risk in sport (Boga, 1988; Donnelly, 1994; 2004; Duanne, 2000; Frey, 1991; Priest & Baillie, 1987; Schrader & Wann, 1999; Stranger, 1999). For example, Yates (1992) looked at risk taking behavior from social, physiological and psychological perspectives. …

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