Why You Feel the Urge to Jump

Why You Feel the Urge to Jump is a fascinating article about acrophobia, and what makes some of us (with a fear of heights) have a sensation/pull/urge to confront our fear… and experience an odd compulsion to want to jump.

The French explain it as L’Appel du Vide, or call of the void. Are they just French, or can the void really beckon you to kill yourself? New science on balance, fear, and cognition shows that the voice of the abyss is both real and powerful.

I’ve long felt that my fear of heights was one of the most practical traits I have. If you’re up high and near a ledge, your chances of falling to your death increase. Therefore, to decrease your chances of falling to your death… avoid high places. Totally logical, totally pragmatic.

In the article by Jessica Seigel, there are a lot of interesting explanations as to why those with a fear of heights feel a compulsion to jump. This one stood out to me:

It doesn’t make sense, of course, since jumping would cause death, but our intrinsic biases (including temporal discounting and negative reinforcement) place a greater value on avoiding present loss than a future gain.

This is an interesting counter to what I’ve assumed was a Freudian explanation of acrophobia (we are afraid of heights because we are afraid we might leap to our deaths).

This week, I had drinks on the rooftop deck of the building where I work. It was a lovely day, the beer was cold, and the company was great. And yet, I had one hand firmly on a railing the whole time.

It just seemed like the logical, practical thing to do.

My big thing with being in high places is: I trust architects and designers and safety inspectors. I just happen to trust gravity more.

[Photo via Tim Trad]

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