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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Psychological study of participants in high-risk sports Huberman, John


The study set out to investigate the question: "What type of people, driven by what motive(s) seek physically risky activities "for fun"? Professionals who obtain normal rewards (fame, money) for such activities were excluded. A number of hypotheses formulated in the context of personality and motivation theory were studied. Hypothesis I stated that risk has motive-like qualities. Hypothesis II, consisting of 5 sub-hypotheses, tested predictions derived from psychoanalytical theory which regards serious interest in risky pursuits as counterphobic efforts to allay one or more of the following anxieties: (l) general feelings of inadequacy; (2) feelings of masculine inadequacy; (3) morbid fear of death; (4) death-wishes; (5) repressed anxieties of parental abandonment. Hypothesis III postulated presence of belief in magic and superstitions and/or concern with power fantasies; and Hypothesis IV predicted a general tendency to over-use the defense mechanisms of repression and denial by risk-seekers. Hypothesis V, derived from social learning theory, predicted that risk-seekers would tend to come from homes where early risk-taking was either positively reinforced by "loved" parents, or negatively reinforced by "unloved" parents. Instruments included Boyar's (1963) fear-of-death scale, abridged; several items from Cattell's (1958) High School Personality Questionnaire (H5PQ) which measure source trait D; several new attitude scales which had been devised for this study; 3 cards from Murray's (1943) Thematic Apperception Test; Blum's (1950) Blacky card No. 6.; and Gough's (1965) Adjective Check List (ACL), administered once under ego-concept and a second time under ego-ideal instructions. All instruments were assembled into an anonymous questionnaire format. Mean perceived danger levels (mpdr's) of 40 sports, rated on a 7-point scale, were established in a pilot study with 167 university students serving as raters. Three of the sports with above-average mpdr's were chosen to represent "risky sports": mountaineering, skydiving and scubadiving. Three below-average mpdr sports, similar to the risky sports but minus the danger-element, were selected as control sports; hiking, piloting a small plane and sailing. Data are generally presented for the combined risk groups vs. combined controls. Subjects were selected randomly from membership lists of clubs which promote the particular sport, subject to the following restrictions: S must be male; born on or moved to this continent before age of 10; must be skilled and have shown "devotion" to "his" sport; if he is a control S, he must be disinterested in the risk-sport for which he serves as a control. Ten 5s represented each sub-group giving a total of N = 60. Age levels across groups were homogeneous, and only 5 "eligible" 5s were lost and randomly replaced. Only Hypotheses I and V received positive support. Risk has motivational qualities; and risk 5s tend to come from homes with the predicted interaction pattern, and a positive attitude to risk-taking. Personality profiles derived from the bough Adjective Check List showed all groups significantly high in need for achievement, dominance and endurance, and low in succorance, when compared to population norms. Risk 5s showed significantly low heterosexual interests. Findings are interpreted as demonstrating that for the average risk-seeker these sports do not act in a counterphobic capacity. All indicators identify him as a mentally very healthy specimen. Low heterosexual interest is seen as "genuine", probably due to hormonal and/or early training conditions and not due to anxieties. Evidence is adduced that risk-seeking is actually a universal human trait although its investigation has been largely neglected by psychology. Some early and recent trends are seen as consistent with the above interpretation.

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