Frank Farley is L.H.Carnell Professor at Temple University, Philadelphia. He is former president of the American Psychological Association. An Edmonton native, Dr. Farley formulated the concept of Type T, a thrill-seeking personality.
Why do people climb very high, on dangerous cranes, violating the law, alone and in the dark of the night? Perhaps they have a Type T, or thrill-seeking, risk-taking personality? Such an adventure would certainly be a thrill, and definitely a risk. Marisa Lazo, 23, was rescued April 26 from a stint – or should that be stunt? – on a very tall construction crane in Toronto, in a rescue operation requiring several hours that taxed the skills and risk-taking capacities of her trained rescuers.
The voluntary risks she took, other than life and limb, included facing six counts of property mischief, bail of $500 and surrendering her U.S. passport. Her fire department rescuer had to use ropes and harness to get her off the crane, but she had free-climbed it with no such supports and in the darkness, prompting his praise.
My reflections about her are entirely speculative, and Ms. Lazo herself has not spoken about how or why she was on the crane. Her friend told reporters that she wasn't surprised, and that Ms. Lazo is an "adventure-seeking person." To me, this is one hell of a risk-taking woman, a Type T personality by definition. Toronto crane first, Mount Everest next?
Type T behaviour refers to risk-takers and thrill-seekers. At one end of the continuum of human risk-taking and thrill-seeking you have Big T behaviour, characterized by high risk-taking/thrill-seeking; at the other end of the continuum you have Small t behaviour, characterized by risk-aversion/low levels of thrill-seeking. Most people's usual behaviour would typically fall between the two extremes, where risk-taking or risk-avoiding is not a way of life.
But for some, the pursuit of thrill, risk, adventure is a calling. Seeking novelty, variety, rising to a challenge, being open to new adventures, feeling self-confident, engaging the unknown and uncertainty, making up your own mind, are often qualities one might see in these Big T risk-takers.
They may also make decisions differently from others, thinking fast, perhaps going with the gist of the situation. Like almost all aspects of human behaviour, there are usually several reasons for the things we do, several ingredients in the recipe. So two Big T risk-takers may be similar on many things, different on some things.
I see Big T behaviour as breaking into four components: T positive, T negative, T mental, T physical. The first represents positive, healthy forms of thrill-seeking; T negative represents negative, destructive forms. T mental is where the features of the risk-taking/thrill-seeking are primarily psychological, such as in outstanding creativity (you'll not do great creative things without engaging uncertainty, that is, taking risks). T physical is where the features of the risk-taking/thrill-seeking are primarily physical, such as in climbing lofty cranes alone by hand in the dark.
T negative behaviour is a scourge of contemporary society, and in my view, underlies much crime, especially thrill kills – which I believe society underestimates in number. Terrorism is exciting and risky and would appeal to "Big T negative." The Islamic State undoubtedly attracts those who are Big T negative.
The creative side of T positive risk-takers is essential to human progress and the advancement of civilization and knowledge, and "T positive" creativity will be essential in finding solutions to the scourge of the "T negative" destructive risk-takers among us.
The future of civilized society depends in part on reducing the human horror attributable to destructive risk-taking/thrill-seeking. Creative crane-climbing is undoubtedly pushing the limits of risk. I don't condone it, but I do wish that many of those who have a major capacity for risk might find ways to channel these unique qualities in socially important T positive directions – that is, helping society understand and creatively confront the other side of the T equation, the T negative horrors before us, as in terror, crime and violence. Can they find a path to contribute their creative risk-taking bent toward helping us reduce those T negative horrors? Perhaps it's setting a T Type to catch a T Type.