Every year, more than 300 million people — more than the population of the United States — ride roller coasters at U.S. amusement parks, generating more than $9 billion in revenue, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade group. Why do we wait in long lines and pay to be scared – really scared?
Because fear releases dopamine. As Margee Kerr explains in her 4 minute TED Ed animation, fear that doesn’t seem related to survival creates positive high arousal states including excitement, happiness, and even some of the euphoria associated with sex. Thank you, dopamine.
Pain free, worry-free fear, just for fun fear is a natural high. Non-essential systems and critical thinking are shut down. The complexities and troubles of the world disappear. The 3 minute Twisted Colossus roller coaster ride is 3 minutes on an alien planet – no ability or need to think or do anything other than stay strapped in, scream and enjoy the thrill!
As you enjoy this terrific little animation, contemplate what happens to our critical thinking when politicians and religious leaders shouting frightening ideas with terrifying predictions, shutting down the minds of excited followers. The scariest part of this reality is that supporters or adherents are trapped in a condition of negative high arousal that isn’t over 3 minutes later. They may feel elated and euphoric, and energized, but it may be at the expense of relinquishing their capacity to act on the basis of independent analytical thinking.
Masses addicted to political and religious dopamine-powered thrill “rides” are perpetually stuck in on the roller coaster – literally scared out of their minds, and consequently unable to challenge the frightening rhetoric and policies of bombastic, self-serving leaders. Plus, as Margee Kerr explains, we actually bond and enjoy a sense of connectedness by sharing fear; whether it’s following a ride on a roller coaster, at a religious gathering, or a taking part in a political rally. Now that can be scary!