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Arousal Conflict


Explanations > Needs > Internal CIA Conflicts > Arousal Conflict

Taking risks | Safe danger | The central issue |  So what?


We all have a need for a sense of arousal, of tingling interest and excitement. However, within this need there are conflicts that make satisfaction difficult. There are also complications in the interaction with other needs.

Taking risks

Arousal is a rather primitive thing. We feel it as prickly, warm skin, as an intensified alertness and a readiness for action. Being aroused makes us feel alive.

The simplest way to arousal is to put ourselves into danger, taking risks that may harm us in some way. This is why we go skiing, jump out of aeroplanes or just drive fast. We also take social risks, saying things that may cause embarrassment or draw criticism.


The conflict here is that, while we gain pleasure from arousal, we may harm ourselves. This is a numbers game: even if we get away with it for a while, we know we will eventually get hurt. We know this and so fear often accompanies risky arousal. It also further complicates the situation by mingling with and becomes an integral part of the arousal.

Safe danger

There is another way to arousal, managing the risks by reducing or removing them. So, for example, we read exciting stories or watch thrilling movies, gaining pleasure by empathizing with the lead characters, feeling their fear and excitement. We also watch live action, such as motor racing and sports, where real people take real risks so we can safely be aroused.


A conflict here is that we know the limits of reality and, while we gain pleasure in watching from a safe distance, we know that we could get a deeper, more visceral pleasure by taking real risks.

The central issue

A problem with arousal lies in the nature of adaptation. As people, we can get used to all kinds of adverse conditions, an ability that has led us to live in all corners of the world, in extreme temperatures and poverty that many of us can hardly imagine.

This happens as we take risks and even watch risks. We become used to the situation and what was once thrilling becomes mundane. And so we are driven towards more and greater risk.

The need for arousal often conflicts with our need for a sense of control as taking risks means giving up control. Risks can also threaten our sense of identity, from the likelihood of social criticism about our stupidity to the possibility of extinction through death. In practice, we are not generally suicidal and will choose a maximum perceived level of risk to take, limiting our arousal in exchange for survival and stability.

So what?

Help people understand the risks they are taking and steer those who take risks towards safer means of becoming aroused. When people seek physical arousal, maybe direct them to emotional or cognitive means of getting their excitement.

You can also increase arousal by playing up the situation, exaggerating the risks or excitement to be had. You can also build this before the event, creating anticipated arousal by talking about the fun and thrills that they will experience.

See also

Need for Arousal, Arousal and Addiction


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