Stress reactivity and personality in extreme sport athletes: The psychobiology of BASE jumpers

Erik Monasterio, Omer Mei-Dan, Anthony C. Hackney, Amy R. Lane, Igor Zwir, Sandor Rozsa, C. Robert Cloninger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


This is the first report of the psychobiology of stress in BASE jumpers, one of the most dangerous forms of extreme sport. We tested the hypotheses that indicators of emotional style (temperament) predict salivary cortisol reactivity, whereas indicators of intentional goal-setting (persistence and character) predict salivary alpha-amylase reactivity during BASE jumping. Ninety-eight subjects completed the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) the day before the jump, and 77 also gave salivary samples at baseline, pre-jump on the bridge over the New River Gorge, and post-jump upon landing. Overall BASE jumpers are highly resilient individuals who are highly self-directed, persistent, and risk-taking, but they are heterogeneous in their motives and stress reactivity in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) stress system (cortisol reactivity) and the sympathetic arousal system (alpha-amylase reactivity). Three classes of jumpers were identified using latent class analysis based on their personality profiles, prior jumping experience, and levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase at all three time points. “Masterful” jumpers (class 1) had a strong sense of self-directedness and mastery, extensive prior experience, and had little alpha-amylase reactivity and average cortisol reactivity. “Trustful” jumpers (class 2) were highly cooperative and trustful individuals who had little cortisol reactivity coincident with the social support they experienced prior to jumping. “Courageous” jumpers (class 3) were determined despite anxiety and inexperience, and they had high sympathetic reactivity but average cortisol activation. We conclude that trusting social attachment (Reward Dependence) and not jumping experience predicted low cortisol reactivity, whereas persistence (determination) and not jumping experience predicted high alpha-amylase reactivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-297
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • BASE jumping
  • Character
  • Extreme sports
  • Resilience
  • Stress reactivity
  • Temperament


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