Friday, February 23, 2024

It’s often more than a buzz that the rich get from risk

ould you spend $250,000 to venture into the deep, uncharted territories of the ocean? Would you want to “Become one of the first few to see the Titanic up-close”? That was how OceanGate advertised its Titan submersible tours. Previous voyagers described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What happens when such thrill-seeking, bizarre excursions end up becoming an eerie reminder of the risks associated with it? The last voyage of Titan didn’t end any better than the Titanic did. In recent years, a growing trend has emerged among wealthy travellers of seeking high-risk adventures, such as exploring the Titanic shipwreck or embarking on space trips. These danger-filled pursuits appeal to a specific segment of society, and the underlying motivations behind them have attracted the attention of psychologists and researchers. Several psychologists have sought to explain and analyse what drives affluent individuals to seek extreme travel experiences. Social class, status, degree of control and an unrelenting accumulation of wealth all have roles to play in it. Let’s look at some of the reasons that contribute to such high-risk decisions.

Thrill of the unknown: As Harvard psychologist Patricia Robertson explains, the human brain is wired to seek novelty and excitement. For wealthy individuals who have experienced the best that life as usual has to offer, these perilous adventures provide a unique opportunity to escape the mundane and experience something extraordinary. The sense of venturing into uncharted territory and the adrenaline rush associated with dangerous activities can become addictive for those seeking an escape from their predictable routines.

Risk-taking as a status symbol: Travelling to dangerous or restricted locations often involves significant cost and exclusivity. For the ultra-wealthy, participation in such activities becomes a status symbol. It reaffirms their elite position and sets them apart from the average tourist. This need for distinction aligns with social identity theory, which suggests that individuals seek to establish positive self-concepts by affiliating with prestigious groups or engaging in unique experiences. Becoming members of an esteemed group or undergoing an enriching experience aids in elevating the self-concepts of the wealthy. They are motivated to take on high-risk adventures not just to showcase their being a class apart, but also to affirm as much for themselves.

The pursuit of self-transcendence: The Titanic tragedy and other historical sites hold a certain allure for those seeking to connect with something larger than themselves. Sarah Anderson, a renowned psychologist, emphasizes that self-transcendence is an innate human yearning to find meaning and purpose beyond individual accomplishments. As also seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which places self-actualization on top, it has to do with a desire for something unfathomable or greater than oneself. Engaging in high-risk trips allows the wealthy to grapple with existential questions and gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.

The narrative of resilience and mastery: High-risk adventures present individuals with a challenge, providing an opportunity to overcome fear and demonstrate their ability to conquer adversity. The psychological reward of mastering such situations and emerging unscathed reinforces their self-confidence and instills a sense of accomplishment. This narrative is closely tied to the notion of an internal locus of control, where individuals perceive themselves as having control over their destinies even in perilous situations.

Escaping the paradox of affluence: The immense wealth that affords these travellers every luxury may also be a source of discontent. The well-known ‘paradox of affluence’ suggests that excessive material abundance can lead to a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose. Seeking high-risk adventures becomes a way for the wealthy to fill this void; they can experience genuine excitement and fulfilment.

The dark side of extreme travel: While the cognitive motivations behind seeking high-risk adventures are intriguing, psychologists also caution against the dangers of glamorizing risk. Psychologist Mark Thompson argues that romanticizing danger can lead to reckless behaviours and jeopardize personal safety. Extreme travel experiences must not be taken lightly, and participants must be well prepared and aware of the potential risks involved.

A surge in wealthy travellers seeking high-risk adventures highlights the fascinating interplay of psychological factors. These extreme travel choices are driven by a complex web of motivations and understanding them sheds light on the allure of danger. It helps us appreciate the diversity of human experiences in an increasingly globalized and affluent world. Nonetheless, it is essential to approach extreme travel with caution, acknowledging the potential risks and prioritizing safety above all else. We have seen eccentric experiences of the wealthy this year, and OceanGate’s Titan sure makes you wonder what is to follow.

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Updated: 27 Jul 2023, 08:52 PM IST

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