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Treasure Hunting as an American Subculture: the Thrill of the Chase


In 2010 an elderly millionaire named Forrest Fenn published his memoir (The Thrill of the Chase) along with a poem describing nine clues to the location of a treasure chest worth millions hidden in the Rocky Mountains. This analysis explored the Fenn treasure hunt as an analog for extraordinary goal pursuits that can consume an individual over time. This chase commitment gradient was conceptualized to occur in phases within the context of liminal theory. The opportunity was taken as well to generate an estimate of the size of the Fenn Chase community at this time. About a third of the national respondents (N = 1178) to a nondescript “mystery” survey claimed awareness with a smaller number self-identified as community members. These survey findings estimated that up to two million adult Americans are involved at some level in the Chase, with an estimated (433,013) constituting competitive searchers with advanced knowledge. A second sample of seasoned members (N = 249) was generated from Chase blogs. The average chaser was shown to be normative in personality, mood regulation, and childhood development. While hypomania was not evident for the average Chaser, those mood attributes enhanced the appeal of the chase as manifested in higher commitments, satisfaction, knowledge, and addiction risk. Over 80% of the blog sample held Fenn and his Chase in high regard, and about 10% described their involvement as a possible addiction. The chase represents an interesting subcultural phenomenon that warrants attention in the social sciences.

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Appreciation is extended to Dal Neitzel from Lummi Island for his data collection assistance.

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Correspondence to Alan King.

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King, A. Treasure Hunting as an American Subculture: the Thrill of the Chase. Hu Arenas 4, 74–98 (2021).

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  • Treasure hunting
  • Forrest Fenn
  • Chase
  • Thrill of the chase
  • Hypomania