RISK IS RELATIVE: ELITE ATHLETES TAKE BIGGEST RISKS

CONFIDENCE

COMMON SENSE DICTATES that adventure seekers are less risk-averse than their sedentary peers. But even elite adventure racers who compete in "extreme" sports like mountain biking, rock climbing and kayaking don't take their risk-taking lightly, according to Terri Schneider, who is pursuing her master's in sports psychology at San Jose State University in California.

Sensation seekers lust after novel, intense experiences and are willing to take any manner of risk--physical, social, legal or financial--to satisfy their urge, according to Marvin Zuckerman, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Delaware and an expert on sensation-seeking.

Schneider administered Zuckerman's index of attention-seeking behavior to 120 athletes in four sports. Adventure racers garnered the highest marks, so Schneider--herself an adventure racer--grilled eight of these uber-athletes on everything from childhood risk-taking patterns to their hobbies and decision-making process in a race.

She found that the more experience adventure racers have, the more likely they are to take big risks. But they no longer consider their actions risky.

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"The more we race, the more our perception of risk changes," says Schneider, whose sixth trip to the Eco-Challenge--one of the toughest races in the world--will air in April on the USA Network.

Research presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making supports Schneider's thesis. Adam Goodie, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, found that people answering trivia questions were willing to bet the farm, so to speak, if they felt confident in their accuracy. Even when such confidence was unwarranted.

"People need to feel that they have control," says Schneider. "They won't act if they don't."

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