A Leap of Faith

Focuses on the positive aspects of risk-taking activities like bungee jumping and sky diving. How risk can be psychologically rewarding; Survey of first-time jumpers to rate their likelihood of bungee-related injury and its results; Lessons jumpers should take to their adventurous counterparts.

By Camille Chatterjee, published September 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Are bungee jumpers crazy to dive so willingly into danger? They might justhave a case of extreme optimism. Novice bungee jumpers believe that they face less risk than other jumpers, says a new study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. But facing this risk may be psychologically rewarding: Jumpers are in better moods than the people who watch them.

Wendy Middleton, a lecturer at England's Royal Holloway College, and colleagues asked 116 first-time jumpers to rate their likelihood of bungee-related injury. Although previous studies have shown that risk-takers in a variety of activities often lose confidence right before the moment of truth, the researchers found that jumpers predicted less injury for themselves than for the average jumper, both upon their arrival at the bungee club and just before the jump.

But friends and family of the bungee jumpers weren't as comfortable with the risk their loved ones were taking. When questioned, they predicted the same prospect of injury for their companions as for the average jumper, and most said they had no desire to take the plunge themselves.

Maybe they should take a lesson from their more adventurous counterparts: the jumpers came to the club with more positive: attitudes than their observers and their attitudes further improved right before taking off. Interviews conducted with experienced jumpers suggest that risk-taking activities such as bungee jumping or skydiving allow participants to confront their fears and gain a sense of achievement. The study "reminds us that people do get something out of taking risks," says Middleton. "There are positive aspects to risk-taking."

PHOTO (COLOR): Bungee jumper