The hairs on his back stood on their ends as Busayo could feel the moist heat developing around his buttocks. He has been holding his buttock muscles for so long to maintain his balance on the pile of crates. Just one more step, and he will cross to the other side to descend. His friends keep cheering him on, but the only sound he can hear is his heart pounding to the rhythm of the vibration of his legs. Just one more step, and here comes the swings, the tilt in the crate and the fall.
While the epidemic of the Crate Challenge lasted, some groups who considered themselves saner to be involved in such “pointless” endeavour kept asking one question: do these daredevils breathe something other than air? It just didn’t make sense to them that individuals will deliberately subject themselves to an activity that comes bearing rewards like fractures, possible trauma to the brain, and paralysis. Even TikTok couldn’t stand it; they had to issue a ban on the viral acrobatics. Biology, however, has an answer to this question. Its solution is, “Why not climb dem crates? But that doesn’t mean you have to be dumb about it.”
If one considers it objectively, there is some level of hypocrisy that unravels in this question that tries to demonise thrill-seekers. Such question has failed to consider that with innovations humans introduce, they also develop novel ways to sniff the cologne of death. Of course, they are a species that loves getting high in every sense of the word. This can be the only explanation why humans go high into the cloud to skydive, climb high altitude mountains, leap from heights with cords strapped to their legs in the name of bungee-jumping. You find all these cute little invitations to the house of death on our bucket list. If your holier-than-thou finger still juts out, perhaps it will interest you to know that even roller coaster rides, tasting foreign foods and watching horror movies all fall in the funnel of thrills that people seek to satisfy.
THE SOURCE OF OUR TASTE FOR DANGER
When an occurrence is beyond standard explanation, the Yoruba say it is due to “Iṣẹ́ ayé”. A non-native Yoruba speaker might take that to mean “it is the handiwork of the world”. While such speakers would miss the intended interpretation, they are closer to the scientific reason humans take on dangerous escapades. It is simply the way nature has made us or, more specifically, the way our brain has been made.
Historically, before humans came up with diverse occupations as we have today, they started as hunter-gatherers. To eat, they had to hunt other animals. With time, what began as a means to fill the belly developed into a means to pass the evening. Then, humans started hunting for pleasure, and evidence for this goes back to 10,000 BC. Perhaps this behaviour has always been a part of us, as researchers are now pointing to evidence suggesting we are not the only animals that hunt for fun. The reward for these thrill-seeking behaviour, however, goes beyond the material. Right in our brain, there is an established system of compensation that encourages it.
The headquarters of this reward is a system situated in the amygdala, a part of our brain that mediates fear, emotions and pleasure. When engaged in a risky activity, a mixture of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins get released in our body. In response, testosterone is released, increasing strength, which gives one a better chance of succeeding in such activities. Other steps also involve further chemistry in the brain, as described in an article by The Atlantic. The reward system in every individual is, however, not the same. The same article states that people with less grey matter in their brains tend to engage in more dangerous activities. Dr Marvin Zuckerman developed a quiz that you can take online to know your sensation-seeking profile. The four types that have been identified include The Adventure Seeker, The Experience Seeker, The Inhibition Challenger and The Boredom Fighter. However, like all tests that have to do with personalities, while a particular profile might be prominent, other subtypes can also be found in the same individual. From other studies, psychologists have also submitted that there is also a scale to measure how much an individual seeks daunting endeavours. For example, high thrill-seekers tend to keep chasing the feeling of high that comes with it, while low thrill-seekers avoid such activities. It was, however, stated that most of us are somewhere in the middle.
ARE THERE BENEFITS OF BEING A THRILL-SEEKER
The evolution of humans is unique in its diversity. Some other species had evolved along the path of physical abilities or fertility, making only those who are fit in this regard survive while others die off. This is not the case for humans. We have evolved both along the course of physical abilities as well as mental capabilities. The evolution is evident because some of us see The Crate Challenge as a fantastic way to enjoy a party.
In contrast, others consider it a lame path to suicide. Suppose the logical and low thrill-seeking humans are considered the better group. In that case, nature should have wasted off the thrill-seekers on the Savannah of Africa before they could even climb further up the evolutionary tree. It is an indicator that perhaps this behaviour serves some useful purpose. A look into this article by Psychology Today reveals some answers. (Spoiler alert, they’ll make you jealous of the thrill-seeking lifestyle). The benefits mentioned in the article include personal uses such as resilience and coping with the stress of life. Some perks are beneficial to the community, such as taking leadership roles and proactiveness. This is not so far-fetched as this group see risks as challenges that need to be overcome rather than threats. Unfortunately, this also means they go out of their comfort zone more often.
The risk attached to this behaviour should, however, not be downplayed. In normal circumstances, no human would want to willingly subject themselves to pain or injury; however, the trouble comes with our senses’ limitations. As a result, they might underestimate the risks attached to a particular activity. This underestimation could be due to an oversight or a bonus point to Murphy’s Law. The law states that things bound to go wrong will go wrong regardless of what humans do.
On whether the Crate Challenge makes any sense in itself, it might be helpful to imagine under what conditions the first set of people to go bungee-jumping or ride a rollercoaster might have done it. The risk would have been greater than what it is now, but the mechanisms have been enhanced to be safer with time. While it might be dumb to put yourself in situations that can make you land your spine on concrete or asphalt, why not climb the crates on floors that can absorb the fall by filling the surrounding with beds, for example. Disregard for safety is usually punished severely by nature, and thrill-seekers have to realise that dead men seek no thrills.