Have you ever wondered why some families seem to be possessed by the mountain madness, hitting the slopes every year? The desire to ski may just be in our genes, research states.
A study from Cynthia Thomson, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia and an accomplished downhill skier and climber herself, links the desire to seek thrills to a particular variation in our genes.
The study has involved approximately 600 skiers and snowboarders with skill levels ranging from intermediate to expert. Thomson collected genetic samples and asked them to complete questionnaires in order to assess to what extent they take risks. During the study, the researchers took into account other factors that could have an influence on thrill-seeking behaviour, such as gender and skill level.
Thomson found that participants who take risks on the mountain were more likely to have a specific variation in the code of a gene involved in the regulation of dopamine. They for example more often agreed with statements such as "I like to ski/ride fast" and "I like to go down runs that I have never been down before."
The so-called “Daredevil Gene” is found to limit the amount of dopamine that is released, which could mean that people with this gene need a greater amount of stimulation to reach the same level of arousal to get the same dopamine burst as others.
While the study focused on skiers and snowboarders, the result may also relate to other forms of risk taking. In fact, the same genetic link that applies to thrill seeking also has a relationship with drug usage. While some people take up longboarding and other sports to satisfy their sensation-seeking cravings, others may turn to drugs to attain the same gratification.
Organising yearly ski holidays can be a pro-social outlet for those who are driven to take risks, as opposed to more deviant outlets, such as drugs or gambling.
“People are so passionate about sports. People take risks in other ways but I believe sport can be a positive outlet,” commented Thomson. She therefore volunteers with ‘Take A Hike’, an organisation that exposes youth-at-risk to outdoor adventures and help them learn through such experiences.
She added that one’s upbringing can also have a huge impact on people’s choice of sport: “I was raised in a skiing family (thank God); but had my parent’s been bowlers, I may have followed their path.”
The study was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.