The Wall Street Journal:
In the late 1940s, the English adventurer Wilfred Thesiger set out on a series of journeys to explore the vast sand desert known as the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Together with a small band of Arab companions, he suffered multiple hardships, from freezing temperatures at night to intense heat by day—made worse by his decision to travel barefoot—and was haunted by the knowledge that the team was being pursued by bandits. One journey lasted seven months, during which the men were forced to live on vile food and two pints of water a day. As bad as the physical ordeals could be, the explorer later claimed that the worst part of the journey was being stuck with the same people every day.
It would be easy to feel sorry for Thesiger if he hadn’t found the whole experience so satisfying. According to British behavioral scientists Emma Barrett and Paul Martin, thrill seekers derive a rush from being out on the edge. “Brain imaging studies,” they write in “Extreme: Why Some People Thrive at the Limits,” “have found that risk seeking behaviour is preceded by activity in the region of the brain associated with the anticipation of pleasurable experiences like sex, drug taking, and monetary gain.”
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