Is High Wire Walker Nik Wallenda’s Brain Wired Differently Than Yours?

by Kathy Laurenhue on June 22, 2012

Nik Wallenda

Nik Wallenda, 33, is a 7th-generation high wire walker who made his way 1,500 feet across Niagara Falls on a tightrope recently. He was the first person to do so since 1896 and, as The New York Times reported, the first ever to walk right over the falls, where the mists and updrafts from the falls increase the difficulty.

It was a feat few people on earth would be capable of doing, yet the walk itself was uneventful, and the danger was minimized by wearing a harness. (Some of us say, “Thank goodness.”) But what makes a brain like Nik’s tick?

How is your brain different from a tightrope walker’s?

  • Tightrope walking is ateachable skill, but obviously some people excel more than others. Are the brains of people like Nik Wallenda and his extended family wired differently for balance?

According to family recollections, Nic showed acrobatic talent at the age of two and learned to walk a tightrope at four. Balance is recognized as a definite sense (along with dozens of others beyond what were once just five), and like hearing and sight, there is tremendous human variation. The Wallendas seem to be at the high end (pun intended).

You can maintain or improve your balance by staying active and by participating in balance-focused exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi.

  • Tightrope walking is common in circuses, but the showmanship that draws huge crowds is rare. Nik Wallenda
    knows how to use his unusual talent for fame and fortune. Does that also represent special brain wiring?

A craving for attention is stronger in some people than others, but whether it is based on brain biology or life experiences is still being debated and probably varies among individuals. Marketing your skills is more teachable than inherent, but people
who are extroverted – which is brain-based – often find it easier to practice than introverts. Fame also seems to involve a bit of luck and timing.

If you want fame and fortune, my advice is to cultivate your talents and your marketing skills, and then seek the backing
of others who can help.

  • Tightrope walking is often performed without a harness or safety net. Do people who thrive on life-threatening
    risk (racecar drivers, sword swallowers, skydivers) have differently wired brains?

The answer to this one has the most brain evidence behind it. According to the article from the BBC News, “A small study from Vanderbilt University in the US found the biggest ‘risk-takers’ processed a brain ‘reward’ chemical dopamine differently.” Teenagers have tended to be the
focus of most risk-taking brain research, but more studies are being done on older adults, particularly males.

One last question:

  • Do you have any of this special wiring?

Let me know what you think!

Note to readers: You can learn more about impressive athletes in the MindPlay Connections™ publication, “Olympic Oooos and Ahhhs” available from the Wiser Now store at  Enjoy the trivia quizzes, word games and
discussion topics you’ll find there!


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