According to a discovery channel show (Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk), extreme risk takers have about 1/3 less MAO(Monoamine Oxidase) than “normal” people. This condition is also linked with antisocial behavior (like crime and addiction). MAO regulates serotonin. Serotonin is linked with feelings of well being and anxiety.
Fear initiates the fight or flight response in us, which causes adrenaline to show up and increases the heart rate and raises the body temperature. Blood is moved away from the internals and to the limbs for action and readiness. Even experienced extreme sports enthusiasts experience fear right before committing action. However, these people would say the shakiness of the fear is just part of the journey. Initially after a rush of adrenaline, the body raises endorphins which are associated with pain relief and pleasure, resulting in a long pleasurable high feeling. Here’s an excerpt from the TV show. It’s in IMAX’s too which would be worth a trip!
The point about lower MAO levels is the first anatomical thing I’ve heard that characterizes Adrenaline Junkies or people who do more high-thrill activities. Is it that the lower MAO levels make a more extreme experience necessary to feel the benefits of the natural high (more seratonin)? Doesn’t seem right. Is it that the lower amount of MAO allows the adrenaline high (emission of seratonin) to be unregulated on the up side… meaning the seratonin is unchecked and provides a greater than average high for these people? That would agree with my experience at least.
There’s another rich experience subject I wish had definitive scientific explanation. Do our brains process information quicker during a high-fear or life/death situation?
The below livescience link takes the opposite stance from the video. Seemingly using the same type of experiment. Their result is that the brain does NOT take in more information per second during heightened adrenaline periods. It seemed to use the same type of clock reading experiment which leads us into the black of ambiguity. “Proof” on both sides of the argument. http://www.livescience.com/health/071211-time-slow.html
If that study is right, then I’d pose a slightly different question. Does our body change with a life/death situation? Maybe our perception that time slows down isn’t that our brain is able to take in more information per second… but that our brain is changing it’s method of processing to result in quicker reactions. So, I could buy that the brain is “seeing” the world in the same slow rate, but I believe strongly that twice as fast actions and decisions are getting made when I’ve encountered the sense that time slows down. Here’s an attempt to explain how/why.
Ever noticed how a cat, or some other non-thinking animals are mostly instinctual and react to most anything as life and death with incredible reaction times? They aren’t programmed to think first by nature so we see raw instinct and it’s mind blowing. I know my cat used to be able to take the rabbits foot before I could get my limbs to grab it.
What makes sense to me is that when fear of demise is imminent, humans’ thought processes (Cerebrum I think) take a back seat to action of our limbs. We no longer act via deliberation and normal conscious/emotional decision. Like a cat that doesn’t send actions thru a long synapse chain of memories/thoughts/emotions to decide whether or not to flee, we shorten our synapse chain in an emergency to create immediate and instinctual actions. The sense that time changes might be a result of our decisions/reactions happening about twice as fast usual while our Cerebrum is recording from the back seat at the same ol’ rate.
This could explain why in Hang Gliding, it’s important to take small steps in advancement as the instinctual reactions take many nights sleep to get ingrained. Good instructors all know this, but I guess I’m just trying to explain it’s connection to my point here. They know that if the instincts aren’t there, a bad situation could leave a student in a frozen fear. Like I said before, fight or flight takes blood from the brain to limbs and it’s hard to ponder new ideas or scenarios with the relatively slow and maybe oxygen starved Cerebrum!! As much as possible needs to be ingrained in our “Lizard” brain as we approach new experiences… Like Aerotowing for me! LOL
There it is.