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Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

Why We Go To Extremes

Why are extreme sports, like cross fit, rock climbing, snowboarding, mountaineering, rafting, cave diving, wakeboarding and even surfing so popular?  Well, it’s not just that they’re cool.

Activities that we can include in the category of extreme sports are all very physically challenging and involve some element of risk. But how could anyone's idea of thrill-seeking also be potentially life-threatening?

This week, the Two Guys, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, discuss the appeal of extreme sports. 

No pain, no gain.  There is a common misconception in our society that the more we have to exert ourselves to accomplish something, the higher the value of that accomplishment.  It feels very rewarding to create the positive feedback loop in our minds that we’ve endured suffering in order to reach a goal.  That’s how our minds work.  At the end of a challenging task, we like to reap the rewards of our exertion.  When it comes to physical exertion, those rewards are usually benefits like strength, fitness, endurance and a pretty hot bod.  There are, of course, also the bragging rights of having climbed a mountain, or some other extreme.  We take social pride in such an achievement.  Very simply, it feels good to work hard. 

The fact is that for most of us in the privileged reality of modern existence, we endure very little suffering on a daily basis.  We don’t face too many physical challenges in life.  We don’t have to hunt for our food, or fight to defend ourselves, or physically work to build our comfortable dwellings.  Essentially, we seek out extreme challenges to create the sense of reward that we feel when we overcome those challenges.  Extreme sports offer us an achievable sense of accomplishment that we wouldn’t otherwise attain in our cozy, privileged lives.

We are living in a glorious age of human civilization when we have access to travel freely and easily to destinations across the planet of all different types of geographic features.  Our human nature comes instilled with a desire to conquer the obstacles presented by Mother Nature, as we’ve done for thousands of years.  Why wouldn’t we, then, want to surf every wave, explore every cave and climb every mountain?  We can, man.  That’s pretty cool.

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.
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