High Places Phenomenon: What Is It And Why Do We Feel It?

High places phenomenon

Has anyone ever had the idea of ​​jumping when they were on the roof of a tall building, or walking across a bridge?

At first, this idea may seem like that of a suicidal person, but the truth is that there are many people who, when they are in a high place, cannot help but think about jumping, although, fortunately, they do not do it.

According to a 2012 investigation, this type of thinking has a name: it is the phenomenon of high places.. Let’s take a closer look at what it is about.

What is the high places phenomenon?

In 2012, Jennifer Hames and her colleagues wondered about a strange sensation. Many people, When they were near a cliff or a high place, a strange sensation came over them, which could be interpreted as the fear of wanting to jump.. It was as if his brain was sending them signals that, even though it was dangerous, there was a desire to prove that it would feel like falling into the void.

The group wondered what this could mean, if it was something that could be synonymous with psychopathology or if it occurred in normal people, without any problem or suicidal tendency. They also wanted to see if it was common, or only occurred in a few specific cases. In their 2012 article “An urge to jump affirms the urgency to live,” Hames and colleagues called this phenomenon the “High Places Phenomenon.”

The investigation

Hames had the idea to investigate this strange sensation when she was still a graduate student at Florida State University. While in the laboratory, talking with her colleagues, the topic came up as to whether anyone had ever felt the fear of wanting to jump in front of trains, crash their cars into oncoming traffic or jump from tall buildings, still not wanting to commit suicide.

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The curious thing is that this type of sensations had appeared in the minds of the researchers themselves on more than one occasion, which aroused their interest as to whether it occurred in the general population.

Doing a literature search, they saw that one in seven people had similar thoughts, but the one that caught their attention the most was precisely the one related to heights. How was it possible that, being in high places, we get the sensation of wanting to jump? What is evolutionary about this? We have a problem?

To address these questions, Hames and his colleagues conducted research by taking a sample of 431 college students and asking them whether they had ever felt this sensation. In this sample, nearly 50% reported having felt, on some occasion, a strange urge to jump off a bridge or jump off a cliff. A notable fact about the sample is that it was made up of those who did not present suicidal tendencies, which may clash with the fact that they reported that they felt that strange desire to jump into the void.

Their research led them to a conclusion that, at first, seems counterintuitive: the participants’ brains, when they were in risky situations, such as heights in this case, It raised the question of whether they wanted to jump to keep them safe.. What was happening was that, objectively, they felt like they really wanted to jump.

According to the group, this feeling of wanting to jump is not actually a desire, nor a desire to want to die. It is a safety sign, a warning that, despite the height, you are safe, as long as you stay behind the bridge fence or do not open the tenth floor window. It is a way for the brain to tell us that we are in a safe place, that there is nothing to worry about, but we tend to misinterpret this signal, thinking that we react that way because we really want to jump.

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The group saw that the anxiety variable influenced how likely it was that a person had had these types of thoughts. The greater the anxiety, the more likely people were to experience the high places phenomenon..

Despite the explanations of Hames’ group, other psychologists consider that there could be more causes behind this phenomenon. For example, there are those who consider that it could be a way that the body has to keep us awake, to prevent us from freezing in the face of a threat or risk, such as heights in this case.

The phenomenon in culture

Whatever the interpretations, the truth is that the phenomenon should already be known in popular culture, although in a less defined way and without an appropriate scientific approach. Based on the idea that every relevant feeling and psychological aspect will end up being expressed, in one way or another, in human language, we can see that the phenomenon of high places had already been expressed.

We have an example of this in French. There is the expression “l’appel du vide”, which means “the call of the void”., a somewhat poetic way of saying that people have a strange sensation of being called to jump from the highest height and hope not to hit the ground. Another example is a famous Italian song, “Mi fido di Te” by Lorenzo Jovanotti Cherubini, it says “La vertigine non é paura di cadere, ma voglia di volare”, translated means “vertigo is not the fear of falling, but the desire.” to fly”.

Depathologization of the phenomenon

The research by Hames and colleagues is important, especially considering that many people who have experienced this phenomenon often believe that they are starting to go crazy. Others often think that if they really think they want to jump, they have suicidal ideation. These types of thoughts collateral to the phenomenon are what can lead to a true psychopathological condition, in the most serious cases.

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According to the group, The high places phenomenon is similar to intrusive thoughts, although they are not the same. Intrusive thoughts are ideas that suddenly appear in the minds of those who suffer from them, preventing them from carrying out their daily tasks. They are usually symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD), and therefore are linked to the experience of traumatic situations.

The difference between the phenomenon of high places and intrusive thoughts is that the latter appear without further ado, suddenly and without warning, while the phenomenon of high places occurs when you are in a high place, such as a building, a cliff. or a bridge.

Taking this into account, it is important to highlight Hames’ research for having managed to give a scientific and depathologizing explanation to the phenomenon. Those who are next to a bridge, a cliff or a tall building and feel that strange sensation of wanting to jump, they really don’t want to do it.. It’s their brain telling them that where they are, they’re safe, that they don’t have to worry, as long as they don’t cross the safe line. It is a normal thought, which appears in, apparently, half of the population. No need to worry.