Why Do We Love Roller Coasters?

Every summer, the world flocks to amusement parks. Why do we love roller coasters so much?

Roller Coasters have been terrifying and exhilarating thrill seekers for centuries. The earliest incarnation was an ice slide built in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1750. 50 years later, a Frenchman brought the idea to Paris, building a more permanent structure out of rails and wheels.

The first American roller coaster was built in Coney Island, Brooklyn, in 1884. For a nickel, adventurous Americans rode "Thompson's Switchback Railway". Although it trundled along at a mere six miles per hour (9.7 kph), it caused a sensation, and established Coney Island as a major summertime attraction. They unveiled the legendary wooden coaster the Cyclone in 1927, which held the title of the king of coasters for years and still is in operation today.

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The rides have advanced by serious leaps and bounds since: they routinely exceed speeds of over 100 mph (160 kph), and heights well over 400 ft (122 m). It's the physics involved that make them fun: the build-up potential energy on the hills, kinetic energy on the drops, acceleration and g-forces on the loops and turns that get your blood pumping and adrenaline flowing.

Coasters basically use those forces to manipulate your inner ear, internal organs, and other senses to mess with your brain chemistry: all those drops, jerks and free-floating gravity trips are meant to give you a whiff of fear, (without actually putting you in any real danger).

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People get a natural high from the endorphins released when they encounter the brain's "fight-or-flight" response, regulated by our amygdala, which dumps a host of chemicals into our blood streams to prep our bodies to fight or run. The brain releases dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and oxytocin to help hone the mind, focus the senses and prepare the body for action.

Are you a roller coaster junkie? Do you plan on riding any this Summer? Let us know how they make you feel in the comments section!

Learn More:
Curiosities: Why do people like to scare themselves by watching horror movies or going on thrill rides? (WISC.edu)
"Why some people crave this type of stimulation isn't clear. Perhaps certain individuals simply need a more active amygdala for some reason."

Why Do Some Brains Enjoy Fear? (The Atlantic)
"This time of year, thrillseekers can enjoy horror movies, haunted houses, and prices so low, it's scary. But if fear is a natural survival response to a threat, or danger, why would we seek out that feeling?"

Thrill-Seeking: What Parts of Your Brain Are Involved? (Psychology Today)
"Why do so many folks, from daring Olympian snowboarders, skiers and skaters to motorcyclists and car racers, not to mention college students at the beach for spring break, find themselves drawn to risk and danger time and time again?"