“Where else in the world can you scream at the top of your lungs and throw your arms in the air?” Frank Farley asks.
“If you did that in most other places, they’d take you to your parents and probably put you through a psychological evaluation.” Farley is a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia.
The freedom to act wildly is one reason why millions of people flock to amusement parks every year.
Roller coasters are a major part of this attraction, and the people who run the parks keep looking for ways to make coasters taller, faster, and scarier.
The new Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, for example, rises 420 feet into the air and travels at speeds up to 120 miles per hour.
It’s the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. And there’s no shortage of people willing and eager to ride it.
For many people, there’s only one good reason to go to an amusement park: the roller coaster. Other people, however, would rather hide behind the closest candy stand than go near a coaster.
What separates these two types of people—those who seek thrills and those who prefer the quiet life?
Roller coasters often appeal to kids whose lives are stressful, structured, or controlled, Farley says.
“The summers of yore where kids could be kids and float down a river in an inner tube are over,” he says. “Roller coasters are a way of breaking out of the humdrum and expectations of everyday life. You can let it all go and scream and shout or do whatever you want.”
Attendance at amusement parks shows that many adults feel the same way.
Compared with skateboarding, extreme mountain biking, and other adventure sports, riding roller coasters is safe. Parents usually don’t mind when kids go on coasters.
Roller coasters also have a way of bringing people together. Riders share the thrill and adventure of surviving what feels like an extreme experience.
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