Mind Matters: Risk Taking

Every year I read about someone getting gored while running with the bulls in Pamplona. I'm a psychologist, so the individuals who run with the bulls fascinate me.

I put the bull runners in the same category as individuals who climb Mt Everest. Throw in individuals who climb El Capitan, with or without ropes. Add extreme tourists who visit places like radioactive Chernobyl and Australia's asbestos death zone at Wittenoom. What is their motivation?

Maybe they are thrill seekers. Some people live for challenges and excitement. They do not worry much about dying or getting injured.

Some individuals pursue risky goals as a response to dares or encouragement from others. Put in this category the individuals who eat a small snail or lizard on a dare.

Some of these folks die a painful death as a result, due to natural poisons or bacteria in the creature.

Some people take great risks because they want to be somebody in their own minds - and to have something with which to impress others.

Put in this category individuals who take dangerous selfies. Some of these people fall to their death.

I can relate to the desire to brag. I often feel an urge to brag about this or that I have accomplished.

I usually fight the urge, with the idea that I do not need to impress anyone. But sometimes the urge prevails.

There are individuals who skip past the courage needed to engage in risky behaviour and fabricate exploits, for example falsely claiming to be a combat veteran. They run the risk of being caught lying.

I do not take many risks, but, like a monkey, I sometimes climb a relatively safe mountain or rock face. My motivation is the desire to achieve.

I have a feeling that one could not stage in Australia a run with the bulls. There are plenty of risk takers here who would run with bulls, but I expect our protective government would prohibit the event.

I have a safer idea for my home town, Armidale, relating to the alpacas I have seen here in paddocks. They look like pleasant animals, but they do sometimes spit at people.

Let's start an annual Run with the Alpacas through the centre of town. That would be safe and fun, perhaps more so for the humans than for the alpacas.

I would join the run. How about you?

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.