Suffering from ... Benign masochism?

Often, we sit down for a hot chilli meal and soon feel the tears thundering down our cheeks...

by Helen Kirwan-Taylor, helen@kirwantaylor.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Our head seems like it's going to explode. Do we stop the activity that is causing such distress? Hell, no. How many of us go to a movie knowing the main actress is going to die of cancer? We watch countless scenes of horror on TV, even though it means having to leave the room often. Coined by the psychologist Paul Rozin, the phrase 'benign masochism' describes the act of tricking the body into thinking it's in some sort of adrenaline rush without actually having to take any risk or action. We like chilli peppers for the same reason that we like dangerous sports, such as sky diving and bungee jumping. These activities excite the body into thinking it's in a dangerous situation, while the mind knows that the circumstances are safe. The affliction becomes serious only when we try to substitute the benign for the real thing - we watch scary movies rather than go out and mingle with people. In the modern-day video game, evil monsters are defeated and empires overturned. We feel elated afterwards, though we're still in our pyjamas and the closest thing to danger we've faced that day is opening the door to let the dog out.

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