Why do we scare the hell out of ourselves? Why do we pay for the privilege? Is it pure thrill-seeking, or is it what's known as counterphobic behavior?

Some people back away from what they fear. Some people seek it out.

That looks good scrawled across a poster for an action movie, but it's also a good philosophy. We often have a very good reason for fearing certain things. Rarely do we have a good reason for seeking them out. And yet we do. Some people consistently display what's known as "counterphobic behavior."


This isn't exactly thrill-seeking. A person can be thrilled by things that do not frighten them. They take risks to experience exhilaration. People who display counterphobic behavior just need to experience whatever it is they fear. Possibly. There is some debate as to what reinforces counterphobic behavior. Some aspects of counterphobics seem to indicate that they just take the need to be "brave" to heart more than most. Children who display counterphobic behavior tend to have parents and families that encourage toughness. Then again, studies have found that counterphobics have also undergone trauma, which might mean that their response to fear is warped due to an experience, not social expectation.

But who is to say they're alone? Counterphobic behavior could explain a few things about extreme sports. Skydiving deaths haven't fallen to the degree they should, given that safety measures have increased. Some people see this as risk compensation, the tendency for people to get sloppy as they feel safer. Maybe it isn't sloppiness. If someone wants to confront their fear of death, and regular skydiving is too safe to let them do it, they'll make skydiving dangerous enough to allow them to confront that fear. But we all like confronting fears. Why do we eagerly devour true crime novels, or pack movie theaters so we can see the details of fake crime enacted? Why do we praise war films for their realism, or action films for their dynamic camera work? Are we thrill-seeking, looking for moments of elation, or terror?


Via Child Psychiatry and Human Development, Counterphobic Behavior.