The Need For Speed – Why Do Some Of Us Like To Go Fast?

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To some of us, speed feels good. That’s reason enough to know that we want to go fast, and to seek safe ways to express and experience this. But behind this simple notion of ‘feeling good’ are certain chemical reactions that may once have served as an evolutionary advantage for our species.

In our modern world, we have invented vehicles that can carry us at mind-boggling speeds that would have been but a dream to our ancestors. That we can do what we once couldn’t is fascinating, but let’s get to the bottom of why we have such a need for speed.

If you think about it, extreme speed has not always been an option for us. Running is as fast as we would have gone before we invented the wheel. We would have stared up at the birds that swooped around us at paces we couldn’t measure.

Yet a relative fast pace would have allowed us to avoid predators and hunt bigger game, and risk-taking behaviours and impulses for adventure would lead us to new lands and breeding opportunities.

Are the same survival mechanisms still at work today?



1. The Biology Behind Our Need For Speed

Inside your brain there are millions of chemicals, hormones and neurotransmitters which combine to give your interpretation of the world around you, and the feelings inside you, at any given moment.

When you put your foot to the floor of a fast car, the instant reaction is a release of the adrenaline hormone. This causes your heart to beat faster, your temperature to rise, and a tingling sensation to course through your body. To some people this is very uncomfortable, and is interpreted as nerves or fear. Others interpret this sensation as excitement and exhilaration, kickstarting their need for speed.

Dopamine is another major facilitator of our love for speed. This neurotransmitter is linked to pleasure-seeking behaviour, and is experienced as a euphoria. It is released a sort of natural reward in the brain. According to a University of Washington scientist in a National Geographic interview, “motivation is driven by the dopamine system”. On a biological-chemical level, we are hard-wired to move forward, and to feel stimulated and rewarded by fast speeds.

2. Individual Differences In Risk-Taking

It’s pretty clear from everyday human experience that we all have a different need for speed. Some love it, and some are scared to death.

Men are widely believed to have a higher need for speed than women, and there is research that points in this direction. For example, a 2009 study from the Organizational Behaviour and the Human Decision Process found that testosterone levels of men driving sports cars were significantly higher than those driving Sedans, and that this can be related to ‘conspicuous consumption’, or their need for status. Increases in testosterone and adrenaline could combine with social status and ego-drives to give men more chemical ‘reasons’ to go fast.

But a more wholesome explanation of individual differences in our need for speed come from Martin Zuckerman’s extensive research, conducted in 2001, around the personality trait of ‘sensation seeking’ and its relationship to risk taking. He concluded that impulsive sensation seeking is a basic personality dimension across the whole species – we only vary in the degree of risk that we are willing to take, and the way that we seek sensations. Some of us like physical sensations such as speed.

On a chemical level, individual differences can also be explained by the dopamine regulator MAO. Lower levels of MAO, and therefore higher responsiveness to dopamine, lead to a more likely chance that a person will seek ‘hits’ to satisfy their need for pleasure and reward.

3. How To Satiate Your Need For Speed

So, we all have an inherent risk-taking mechanism, and to varying degrees we all find pleasure and reward from the experience of going fast. The most important question now is, how do we satisfy our need for speed without causing danger or harm to ourselves or other people?

The answer is to embrace modern hobbies and professions which can give you the speed you need in a safe and controlled environment, such as power boating or flying a helicopter or plane. Basic training can help you to develop the skills in order to enjoy the speeds that will get your heart racing.

Courses Dojo have a number of professional and hobbyist courses for those who are looking to make an impact in adrenaline sports and activities, either for their own enjoyment, or to show others the excitement that they love.

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