People who are high in "novelty seeking" who tend to have low levels of dopamine and undertake risky or novel type experiences in order to bring up their levels of dopamine. They also tend to have low harm avoidance which may be "linked to low levels of the calming chemical, serotonin." Harm avoidance is even lower in BASE jumpers than in mountain climbers. And, they have low levels of anxiety. Even normally stresful situations may not trigger typical stress responses like a higher heart rate for them. Many seem to be basically immune to post-traumatic stress.
The dark side is that the risk is real. In a group of mountain climbers identified in 1998 for an extreme sports psychology study "four years later . . . 8% were dead from climbing accidents."
Dr Monasterio: I think it’s a little bit unfair to compare mountaineers or extreme sports people with psychiatric patients but purely for comparison sake the death rate as found in my study would be comparable to the most serious psychiatric disorders.
Narration: While Erik’s BASE jumper study hasn’t been going long enough for equivalent figures, a rough database maintained by a BASE insider suggests they too are dying young – many from suicide.
Dr Monasterio: When you look at the data within the population of extreme sports people there’s a small sub-population who are very, very extreme and I think they’re more likely to have all sorts of psychiatric complications.
In other words, while many extreme sports people are merely bored and fearless, some genuinely do have a death wish.