Fear Junkies

We're taught to be careful as kids, but the world is filled with thrillseekers.

ByABC News
February 21, 2007, 6:59 PM

Feb. 22, 2007 — -- Worry. Danger. Risk.

That's what we hear about all the time, as well as all the safety measures we need to put in place to protect us, but think about it. If you avoid all risk, you end up doing nothing.

Professional BASE jumper Jeb Corliss doesn't avoid risk. He's made more than 1,000 jumps in his career, parachuting off bridges, cliffs and buildings, including the world's second-tallest building, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Corliss said, "For me, it's worth taking a risk to push things forward. As scared as you would be standing on the edge of a 1,000-foot building and jumping off it is exactly how scared I am. The only difference between the two of us is that I have learned how to control that fear."

And so have others, says Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.

"These people want to live, you know. They want to live for another interesting day!" Farley said.

Farley has studied risk takers for more than 30 years, from the dumb risk takers whose exploits are all over YouTube.com, to professionals like race car drivers who do it more carefully.

Farley refers to these folks as T-types. The T stands for thrill. When I asked him why anyone would take any risks -- it seems better to be safe -- he replied, "If we choke that off, we're dead."

Farley points out that America was founded by people who risked their lives to create our nation: "1776 was full of risk takers. If the British knew what they were doing, they would have executed all of them. Those are our founders."

The immigrants who settled America literally risked their lives crossing the ocean to come here. These are our ancestors. It's as if we're hard-wired to be risk takers.

Think about the explorers Lewis and Clark. They traveled nearly 4,000 miles without a map.

Consider the Wright brothers: Every time they flew, they took their lives in their hands. In fact, Orville Wright once crashed during a test flight, killing his passenger. And Martin Luther King Jr., a huge risk taker, ended up paying for it with his life.