High places phenomenon: what is it and why do we feel it?

Doesn’t the idea of ​​jumping on the roof of a tall building or walking on a bridge come to your mind?

At first, this idea may sound like suicide, but the truth is that many people who, when they are high up, can’t help but think about jumping, although luckily they don’t.

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

    What is the phenomenon of high places?

    In 2012, Jennifer Hames and her colleagues wondered about a strange feeling. Many people, when they were near a precipice or a high place, a strange sensation invaded them, which could be interpreted as the fear of wanting to jump.. It was as if his brain was sending signals to them that, while dangerous, there was a desire to prove that he would feel himself falling into the void.

    The group wondered what this could mean, if it was something that could be synonymous with psychopathology or if it happens in normal people, without any problems or suicidal tendencies. They also wanted to see if this was something common or if it only happened in a few specific cases. In their 2012 article “Urgent to jump affirms the urgency to live”, Hames and his colleagues called this phenomenon “Phenomenon of high places”, which translated into Spanish would be called “phenomenon of high places”.


    Hames came up with the idea to investigate this strange feeling while she was still a graduate student at Florida State University. While in the lab, chatting with his classmates, the question arose as to whether anyone had ever felt the fear of wanting to jump in front of trains, crash their car in the opposite lane, or jump large buildings, still unwilling to commit suicide.

    The funny thing is that such sensations have cropped up in the minds of the researchers themselves on several occasions, which has sparked their interest in whether they occur in the general population.

    By doing a literature search, they saw that one in seven people had thoughts like this, but what caught their attention the most was precisely that related to heights. How was it possible that, being in height, we felt the desire to jump? What is evolutionary about this? We have a problem?

    To address these issues, Hames and his colleagues conducted research by taking a sample of 431 students and asking them if they had ever experienced this feeling. In this sample, about 50% said they had felt, at some point, a strange urge to jump off a bridge or jump off a cliff. A notable fact about the show is that it was shaped by the fact that they did not show any suicidal tendencies, which may conflict with the fact that they said they felt that strange urge to be. throw into the void.

    Their research led them to a conclusion that, at first glance, seems counter-intuitive: the participants’ brains, when they were in risky situations, such as heights, this raised the question of whether they wanted to jump to stay safe. What was happening was, objectively, it made them feel like they really wanted to jump.

    According to the group, this feeling of wanting to jump is not really a desire, nor a desire to die. It is a sign of safety, a warning that, despite the height, one is safe, as long as one stays behind the bridge fence or the tenth floor window does not open. It’s a way the brain has 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 are reacting this way because we want to. really jump.

    The group saw that the anxiety variable influenced the likelihood that a person had these types of thoughts. At higher anxiety, people were more likely to experience high places.

    Despite the Hames group’s explanations, other psychologists believe there may be more causes behind this phenomenon. For example, there are those who believe that it could be a way for the body to stay awake, to keep us from being frozen in the face of a threat or risk, as it would be in this case.

      The phenomenon of culture

      Whatever the interpretations, the truth is that the phenomenon should already be known in popular culture, albeit less precisely and without a proper scientific approach. Starting from the idea that all the feelings and all the relevant psychological aspects will eventually be expressed, in one way or another, in human language, we can see that the phenomenon of the high places had already expressed itself. .

      We have an example in French. There is the expression “the call of the void”, which means “the call of the void”, A bit of a poetic way of saying that people have such a strange feeling of being called upon to throw themselves from the highest level and hope not to hit the ground. Another example is a famous Italian song, “El meu fido di Et” by Lorenzo Jovanotti Cherubini, known as “La vertigine non è 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 of Hames and his colleagues is important, especially since 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, it’s because they are suicidal. These collateral reflections on the phenomenon are those which can lead to a true psychopathological image, in the most serious cases.

      According to the group, the phenomenon of high places 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 performing their daily tasks. They are usually symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and therefore are linked to experiencing traumatic situations.

      The difference between the phenomenon of high places and intrusive thoughts is that the latter appear without further, suddenly and without warning, while that of high places occurs when one is at a height, such as a building, a precipice or a bridge. .

      In view of this, it is important to highlight Hames’ research for having succeeded in giving a scientific and pathological explanation for the phenomenon. Those who are on the side of a bridge, a cliff or in a tall building and have that strange feeling of wanting to jump, really don’t want to do it.. It is their brain that informs them that where they are, they are safe, that they don’t have to worry, as long as they don’t cross the safety line. It is a normal thought, which appears in, in fact, half of the population. No need to worry.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Hames, JL, Ribeiro, JD, Smith, AR and Joiner Jr, TE (2012). A desire to jump affirms the desire to live: an empirical examination of the phenomenon of the high place. Journal of Affective Disorders, 136, 1114–1120.

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