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Cedar Point coasters help college psych class overcome phobias

Tom Jackson • Oct 26, 2011 at 2:29 PM

Some people are so afraid of roller coasters they refuse to get on them.

Fortunately for the vitality of Cedar Point, many people love roller coasters. But the phobia that coasters can inspire provided fodder for an abnormal psychology class at the University of Mount Union.

Kevin Meyer, assistant professor of psychology at Mount Union, led a class of 30 students to Cedar Point on Sunday.

A “phobia group” of 12 dealing with various coaster phobias were there to face down their fears. They filled out surveys on their fears before and after climbing into the coaster trains.

Another 18 were the control group, and were at the park to study treatment of phobias (and to ride on the roller coasters). They also filled out the surveys.

The students in the phobia group included Amanda Perillo, 19, a student from Canton. She has a special fear of wooden roller coasters.

“I don’t trust wood. I don’t think it’s safe. I don’t ride roller coasters, period,” she said.

She does come to Cedar Point with her family.

“I have a little brother,” she said. “I go on the kiddie things with him.”

But Perillo climbed on the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, sitting next to Meyers.

“He kept talking to me, ‘it’s going to turn’ ... which is very helpful because I knew what to expect,” she said.

Meyer said Sunday’s direct confrontation with roller coaster fears followed group therapy sessions.

“We’ve been treating their phobias for over a month,” Meyer said.

The skills the class is using to deal with roller coaster fears can be transferred to deal with other phobias, such as a fear of flying. Cognitive behavioral therapy, the approach that is being used, is a mainstream therapy commonly used in psychology, said Meyer, who is a family therapist as well as an academic.

Meyer’s research assistant Sunday was student Jeremy Menefee, 20, a psychology major. Menefee passed out and collected the forms the students filled out at each roller coaster and handled other research tasks.

Last year, Menefee was a member of the phobia group. He was afraid to ride Top Thrill Dragster.

Menefee, who said he has always been scared of heights, feared he would not be up to the task when the big moment came. So he got his first ride over with ahead of time. During down time between coasters, “I headed straight over to Top Thrill and rode it,” he said.

That first ride was frightening, but Menefee enjoyed the repeat ride with his class.

“The second ride was awesome,” he said.

Menefee said he also has gone skydiving despite his fear of heights, although he said he had to be pushed out of the plane.

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