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Health and Medicine

Abnormal psych at Cedar Point
Mt. Union class conquers fear of coasters in Sandusky

Kabir Bhatia
The Wildcat was built in 1970, and almost convinced Amanda Perillo (front left) to swear off coasters forever. Felicity Devies (rear left), a bio/psychology major, felt the ride was too herky-jerky.
Courtesy of Rebecca Baker
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The number of roller coaster-phobic Ohioans decreased by at least one over the weekend.  WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia has more on an abnormal psychology class’s field trip to Cedar Point.

Abnormal psych at Cedar Point

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For the second year in a row, University of Mount Union professor Kevin Meyer brought his class to Cedar Point for the Face Your Fear Project.  The subject...roller coasters.

Most of his 15 students are fine with weaving and bobbing and lurching into the sky.  But 19-year-old Amanda Perillo is not.
“I just don’t trust wood.  I don’t think it’s safe.  I always think that something’s going to drop and break the wood or it’s going to catch fire.  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  I have a little brother so usually I just wait off for him while everyone else rides.”
Bhatia: “You think it’s the height plus the wood plus the speed?”
Perillo: “Yes that’s the major thing, especially the speed.  I’m always afraid because wood can only take so much. “
Bhatia: “Did you have termites or beavers at home or something when you were little?”
Perillo: “Surprisingly no.”
Bhatia: “What do your parents do for a living?”
Perillo: “My Mom’s a kindergarten teacher and my Dad works at Home Depot.”
Bhatia: “Home Depot!  That’s what it is.”
Perillo: “Maybe.  It might be.”
Facing Cedar Point's world-renowned coaster collection seems like extreme therapy.  But Meyer points out that most anxiety disorders are easily treatable.
“All of their fears are based in some type of irrational thought.  They’re thinking ‘the wood’s gonna splinter.  The ride’s gonna fall apart.’  Some people are afraid the restraints are gonna pop open, and they’re gonna be the one person who died from falling out of a roller coaster.  So once you have an experience that contradicts that, it’s hard to go back to believe the way you believed. Because you’ve just proven that wrong.  Today we have this repeated, good experience, good experience.  So that’s what sort of solidifies it for them.”
Meyer kept his students calm by riding with them and giving a play-by-play as curves and drops approached on the Mean Streak, a wooden coaster and also the park’s longest in terms of running time.  But Perillo was still ready to give up after the small, g-force-laden cars of the Wildcat left her speechless.
Bhatia: “You do not look happy.”
Perillo: “I’m just not good with these kind of things. I’m done.”
The day's third coaster, Disaster Transport, was closed, doubling the hour lunch break before the wooden Gemini, which was the world’s tallest, fastest and steepest coaster when it opened in 1978.
Throughout the day, Dr. Meyer used various techniques to calm and coax students like Amanda.
“I’m not trying to turn them into emotionless robots.  It’s a different way of perceiving the fear.  So instead of avoiding it and reacting to it in a negative way… it’s embracing it and enjoying it.  Because people that enjoy roller coasters, that’s what gives them the rush.” 
After the break, Amanda was doing fine.
Bhatia: “You did it.”
Perillo: “I cried a little bit, and I thought I was gonna pee, but I was OK.”
One of the last coasters, The Maverick, has a vertical drop of 92 degrees.  By then, Amanda had done a 180.
Bhatia: “You’re cured.”
Perillo: “I’m good.  
Bhatia: “You were gonna give up after Wildcat, what made you change your mind?”
Perillo: “I don’t know.  Cause I felt bad and I wanted to see what would happen.”
Bhatia: “Is it peer pressure?”
Perillo: “Pretty much.” (laughs)
Bhatia: “She was OK.”
Meyer: “She’s better than OK, she was having a blast, in fact, first thing she said was ‘I’m so glad I didn’t stop before.’  She said it was a piece of cake.  When I asked ‘do you wanna ride with me?' it was actually nice to hear her say ‘no’.  So I always remind them, therapy’s the only job where your job is to get fired.  Because when you’re successful, they don’t need you anymore.”
In 2010, half of the Mount Union Face Your Fear participants had given up before The Maverick.  In 2011, all 15 students were eager to move on to the Wicked Twister, a floor-less, vertical coaster.
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