Is This Normal?: “I Hate Roller Coasters”


Jun 15, 2020


Image Credit: Hitesh Sonar for The Swaddle/Freepik

In this series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?

I have never been able to fathom people’s obsession with roller coasters. I know this is an unpopular sentiment, but I simply don’t see the point of deliberately, and very cheerfully, putting my life at risk, willingly going through the anxiety and fear of losing my life and limbs while being suspended upside down hundreds of feet in the air, and then, rejoicing the fact that I survived this dangerous two-minute ordeal that I voluntarily signed up for — provided, of course, that I do survive it.

While the element of thrill presented by giant, life-threatening rides is lost on me, in an attempt to fit in with my peers, and to understand why roller coasters are such a big deal, I have subjected myself to a couple of rides — only to realize at the end of the tracks just how incredibly, yet benignly, masochistic they are. The journal Judgment and Decision Making defines benign masochism, or a “safe threat,” as “enjoying initially negative experiences that the body (brain) falsely interprets as threatening.” Eventually, “the realization that the body has been fooled, and that there is no real danger, leads to pleasure.” Among noted examples of this phenomenon are eating painfully spicy chili-peppers, watching sad or scary movies, and, of course, going on roller coaster rides.

To break it down further, roller coaster rides give the body an adrenaline rush leading to a surge in wakefulness and alertness — leading one to feel more alive. And, when the ride comes to an end, like most adventure sports, people on the ride have enhanced levels of endorphins, a euphoria-inducing chemical that produces feelings of intense pleasure.

However, not all humans produce the same amount of endorphins, and therefore, people also derive varying degrees of pleasure from the rides — it’s just not as fun for some of us. Studies have also shown that people with lower levels of dopamine, yet another feel-good hormone set off by pleasurable activities, venture away from thrill-seeking activities like roller coaster rides.

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In addition, cortisol, the stress-inducing hormone, is also triggered by roller coasters. But, experts believe that this is good stress, or “eustress,” which individuals experience when faced with a fun challenge like a roller coaster ride. In fact, a 2007 study by Dutch psychologists found that thrill-seekers on roller coasters perceive this stress in a positive way. However, the concept of eustress in terms of roller coasters is based on the premise that people find roller coasters fun, and similarly, the volunteers in the Dutch study were also people who enjoy roller coaster rides.

Not everyone finds the prospect of roller coasters enjoyable, to begin with — which could lead to the experience of stress not necessarily being positive for them. And just like people produce varying levels of endorphins and dopamine, the amount of cortisol generated can also differ from person to person. And, while there are no studies specifically examining whether varying levels of the hormone can act as a deterrent to roller coaster rides for some, it does seem plausible — speaking from personal experience, I find roller coaster rides awfully stressful.

Interestingly, I recently came across a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to ‘Roller Coaster Phobia’, and a rarely used, albeit existent, term for it: coasterphobia, which was defined as an anxiety condition. Evidently, the sum total of negative feelings of humankind towards roller coasters ranges from mere aversion to extreme fear. And, experts believe that those at the fear-end of the spectrum often have an underlying fear of either heights, or closed spaces, or vertigo, or simply, even vomiting, that makes roller coasters scary to them. Some, on the other hand, don’t fear the roller coaster itself, but instead worry about having embarrassing reactions to the coaster like screaming, cringing or puking.

Hopefully now, with social distancing being the order of the day, peer-pressure will not lead us onto roller coaster rides anytime soon — and that’s where my solace lies, for the time being.


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

  1. Leon

    I totally understand the fear of rollercoasters, in fact I myself have been scared of them my entire life and only started riding them about 2 years ago. I myself have emetophobia (the fear of vomit) so riding rollercoasters has been a big struggle especially in the beginning but now it’s like a positive exposition therapy.

    Although I do agree with the fact that rollercoasters can seem very masochistic I need to disagree with the fact that rollercoasters are life threatening.

    In fact rollercoasters are one of the safest types of transport. Although rollercoasters may look very scary (which they are supposed to look like) your life is far more in danger when sitting in a train or a car because in comparison to those where you might go to maintenance two or three times in a year and the streets undergo maintenance maybe every 5 years, rollercoasters undergo detailed maintenance every single day and have hundreds of sensors on every seat, screw, piece of track, etc.

    Although it may sound scary but in rollercoaster a highly intelligent system controls 90% of the ride which leaves little space for human error. As a rider you are locked into a seat in the hands of a system that can see far more than any human ever could in fact the people controlling the rollercoaster can only set the car off if the system says so, so even the human part is in the end dictated by a computer. And yes of course even computers and highly intelligent systems can undergo errors but instead of the ride continuing like it would happen if a human would control it instead the ride completely shuts down locking every train on the track so that nothing can happen and no train can collide. The sensors are so sensitive that even some slightly off balance weight, too fast movement by the riders or even a gust of wind can shut the entire ride down.

    In rollercoaster accidents like the smiler incident human error was the cause of the issue 99% of the time. In the smiler incident there was an empty car on the track which the system recognized and made the ride shut down, the problem was that the people controlling the ride did not see the car so they got a programmer to tell the system that the track is free (which it was not) so that they could send out the next car which then caused the collide. Although there are a few incidents like that all safety mechanisms actually worked and the incident was caused by human error but the amount of incident on rollercoasters (where almost none even include a single death) is nothing in comparison to all the lives lost in car crashes every day. So you should be a lot more afraid of cars than of rollercoasters.

    Anyways that was a long rant but I hope you learned something, I fully understand people that don’t like riding rollercoasters or simply can’t because their body can’t take it (which I fully understand! you experience more G forces on the average rollercoaster than an astronaut does that gets launched into space so there’s obviously people that can’t take it) but I do suggest to at least ride a rollercoaster once in your life as it is an experience that you can get anywhere else in the world and it’s one of the safest experiences you can have too.


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