PSYCHOLOGY: The thrill, some say; and for those like Steve Fossett, it’s worth the gamble. By David Crary THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NEW YORK – Steve Fossett’s wealth made his epic adventures possible, but his relentless willingness to take risks is shared by other on-the-edge thrill-seekers whose exploits and setbacks have long fascinated psychologists as well as the public at large. What prompts climbers to return to the mountains after losing toes to frostbite and partners to fatal falls? What prompts daredevil Alain Robert, the self-proclaimed “Spiderman,” to scale scores of the world’s tallest structures with bare hands and no safety net? “When you get to the very bottom of people who take risks, it’s the thrill of it,” said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley. “It can be a physical thrill, it can be a mental thrill, or it can be both.” While the search for Fossett and his missing plane continues, friends and colleagues have described him as a careful planner who meticulously prepared his adventures – whether by balloon, glider or sailboat – to minimize danger. Some have insisted “daredevil” is a misnomer for him, even as he was hatching plans to break the world’s land speed record. But Michael Dunn, whose friendship with Fossett dates back to an early 1980s climbing expedition in Antarctica, described him as “the quintessential adventurer” and said risk was always part of the equation. “You fully understand that there’s a possibility that you might not come out of this,” said Dunn, who was at the Minden, Nev., airport where the search for Fossett was being run. “Is the risk worth the reward? In my opinion, it isn’t even a question,” he said. “You have to be willing to risk the possibility of failure.” Farley is a past president of the American Psychological Association who has extensively studied risk-taking. He says it is an aspect of human nature with both positive and negative sides. For example, he said a significant amount of crime is motivated by thrill- seeking impulses. “But Steve Fossett was on the constructive side,” Farley said. “He embodies an incredibly important spirit in humanity.” Many psychologists have linked contemporary risk-taking to patterns of social change. Those who perceive today’s world as too predictable and safe may be tempted to seek an outlet in the form of extreme sports such as parachuting off cliffs or snowmobiling on avalanche-prone mountainsides. Others take risks in a quest to set records – to be the youngest, oldest or first of a certain category to accomplish a particular feat, such as circumnavigating the globe alone. For Fossett, success was a matter of personal achievement, not of publicity and fame, according to Dunn. “He’s a very low-key, understated person who does the things that he likes to do for the passion of it,” Dunn said.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!