I’ve been reading about neuroscience recently and what’s now being learnt about behaviors, conditioning and how, frankly, we are far less in control of our every action than we would like to believe; or that history would tell us was the case.

Things like confirmation bias – noticing, seeking and paying attention to only the information that reaffirms a decision or action we have taken. Silly example: When you’ve put your money down on a new car, but have yet to pick it up from the dealer – suddenly you start seeing the same model driving around everywhere, quite often of the same colour. Those cars didn’t just appear, they were there before – you just didn’t notice them until you wanted to confirm your decision to buy the car.

Things like misplaced confidence in rational decision-making – multiple studies show that more and more information doesn’t alter the quality of decisions you make, it just makes you more confident that you’ve made the right decision. So, don’t waste time seeking every last bit of information – decide, move on, be prepared to adjust if necessary.

Things like mirror neurons – which seem to predate our civilized selves. If we see someone smile, we feel happier (come on, who hasn’t experienced an addictive, viral laugh – monitor your own reaction to this, then come back here). Basically, if we observe someone having an experience, we share some of that experience. Which is why porn works.

But, despite the title of this post, that’s not why we’re here.

Couple of weeks’ back, we went to our local theme park, and had a simply wonderful day. It was the first time we’ve visited that Elise, our eldest girl, was big enough to go on some of the roller-coasters. So, ever the dutiful dad, and as something of a slight-junkie for roller-coasters, we indulged our need for speed. Very cool. We came off the rides having woo-hoo’ed ourselves hoarse and with our arms buffetted from where we’d waved them in the air.

Needless to say, it being the Friday of the July 4th weekend, the rides were full of teenagers – wanna-be hunks playing the “I’ll get her scared so that she’ll hang onto me” strategy. The girls loving it.

[kind of fun to watch and reflect how, despite changing times, some things don’t change that much with time]

There was much posturing. There was much screaming.

I’d long understood that roller-coasters work because they trigger our physiological survival mechanisms – adrenalin, endorphins and a post-ride rush of dopamine – basically, we confront death a little bit when we ride roller-coasters. And even though we know it’s a ride, to paraphrase REO Speedwagon, we can’t fight that feeling any more. But with all the reading I’ve been doing about mirror neurons, confirmation bias and the like, I’ve got to wonder if roller-coasters would be the same without screaming teenage girls.

Try this thought experiment. Visualize yourself sitting in a roller-coaster as it crawls and clanks inexorably up that initial high lift. Slowly, you’re heading towards the crest, anticipation building. The backs of the heads in front of you begin to disappear as the cars go over the top, and it’s only heartbeats until you too will feel the plummet. Your heart begins to race. Your breath draws shallow in your chest. Your eyes begin to narrow their focus from the view to the car right in front of you. You get to the top, the acceleration begins and you crest the top of the rise. You see the full extent of the first drop. Just about to shout and scream with joy, you notice that everyone else on the ride is silent, making no noise whatsoever.

Read that paragraph again. Slowly.

Now answer the question honestly. In your vision, in the silence of every other rider, what do you do – scream or stay quiet?

And if you stayed quiet, would you enjoy the ride nearly as much?

Which is why, I think, teenage girls are a must-have for any roller-coaster.