RISK IS RELATIVE: ELITE ATHLETES TAKE BIGGEST RISKS

Presents information on attitudes of athletes toward taking risks. Change in the perception of risk in relation to the quantity of races finished.

By Farrin Jacobs, published on March 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

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.

"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."

ILLUSTRATION (COLOR)