Risk is good for you: An investigation of the processes and outcomes associated with high-risk sport


There has been a long-standing research interest in the potential psychological benefits of participating in high-risk outdoor activities (Lester, 1983). To that end, researchers have focused on the global psychological outcomes of such activities (e.g., self-esteem). There is, however, scant research on the underlying mechanisms of such benefits or the potential transfer of any direct benefits into everyday life. The present study aims to address this gap in the literature. The sample comprised 261 individuals (156 men, 105 women; Mage = 28.93, SD = 12.96) across three groups: high-risk adventure climbers (n = 92), low-risk sportspeople (n = 96), and a low activity control group (n = 73). Individuals completed measures of their relevant experiences of emotion regulation and agency while participating in their chosen recreational activity; and measures of emotion regulation, agency, self-esteem, autonomy, competence and relatedness in relation to their everyday life. As hypothesized, climbers reported significantly greater emotion regulation (F(2,258) = 35.09, p < .01) and agency (F(2,258) = 39.47, p < .01) benefits while participating in their activity. Also as hypothesized, climbers and low-risk sport participants reported significantly greater experiences of autonomy, competence and relatedness in everyday life compared to the control group (Fs(2,258) > 6.21, p’s < .01). However, in line with recent theorising (Barlow et al., 2013), only the climbers reported significantly less difficulty with agency and emotion regulation in everyday life (Fs(2,258) > 3.41, p’s < .05); they also reported significantly greater self-esteem (F(2,258) =  7.47, p < .01). The results suggest that regular climbing provides participants with an agentic emotional experience that then benefits their everyday functioning; such benefits are not derived from other (low-risk) activities. The experience of risk – and the subsequent control of that risk – can thus be instrumental for the construction of the self. 

Acknowledgments: The research is funded by the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship, the European Social Fund, Bangor University and Surf-Lines.