Comfort Zone: Model or metaphor?

Abstract

The comfort zone model is widespread within adventure education literature. It is based on the belief that when placed in a stressful situation people will respond by overcoming their fear and therefore grow as individuals. This model is often presented to participants prior to activities with a highly perceived sense of risk and challenge which arouses strong emotional and physical responses to novel tasks (e.g., ropes courses or rock climbing activities). Students are encouraged to think about ‘stretching themselves’ by moving outside their comfort zone, to expand their preconceived limits and by inference learn (and become better people). This paper explores theories from cognitive and social psychology, based on the work of Piaget and Festinger respectively, that underpin the comfort zone model. The perpetuation of this model which uses risk to promote situations of disequilibrium / dissonance does not find strong support in educational literature. It is therefore suggested that the comfort zone model be reframed as a metaphor, for possible discussion post activity, rather than being used as a model to underpin programming and pedagogy in adventure education settings.

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Correspondence to Mike Brown.

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About the author Mike Brown PhD is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sport and Leisure Studies at The University of Waikato. He has worked in outdoor education in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. He has recently returned to an academic position following two and a half years instructing in the field. In addition to academic pursuits he is a keen sea kayaker and telemark skier. Email: michaelb@waikato. ac.nz

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Brown, M. Comfort Zone: Model or metaphor?. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education 12, 3–12 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03401019

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