Pleasure through Pain: An Empirical Examination of Benign Masochism in Tourism

Astrid Nørfelt, Florian Kock*, Ingo Oswald Karpen, Alexander Josiassen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Paradoxical at first sight, some tourists engage in activities involving negative emotions and even physical pain. Tourism scholars have begun investigating this phenomenon and have called for more of such research. Against this background, the authors introduce to tourism the notion of benign masochism, defining it as a trait describing a person’s tendency to embrace and seek pleasure through safely playing with a stimulating level of physical pain and negative emotions. In doing so, the authors root benign masochism in the notion of play from evolutionary psychology and develop a benign masochism scale that is able to predict various tourism outcomes, including willingness to visit a haunted house, to go on a challenging adventure holiday, and to visit a nuclear disaster site. The authors conclude by discussing theoretical and managerial implications as well as limitations and future opportunities for research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Travel Research
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)448-468
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 17 Jan 2022.


  • Benign masochism
  • Play
  • Dark tourism
  • Adventure tourism
  • Evolutionary psychology

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