Is the Sharpie Shock Challenge Dangerous?

Kids Are Shocking Themselves with the iPhone's Flash - But Is the Sharpie Shock Challenge Dangerous?
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Internet viral videos are not a new thing, and for years we’ve seen a host of internet “challenges” that have gone viral. The challenge, as it’s called, usually centers around some sort of childish dare, and run the entire spectrum from simply silly to downright dangerous.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet for the past decade or so, you probably remember the Saltine challenge, in which the challenged is tasked with eating six Saltine crackers in under one minute – typically one’s mouth is unable to produce enough saliva to swallow that amount of crackers in such a short time span. It’s rumored that NFL quarterback Peyton Manning failed the Saltine challenge while he was a quarterback at the University of Tennessee, but eventually practiced enough to figure out a technique to successfully complete the challenge – a testament to his iron will, for sure.

The cinnamon challenge surfaced later – simply swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon without the aid of anything to drink. The cinnamon challenge, by nature, was a bit more dangerous, posing the potential risks of gagging, choking, inflammation, pneumonia, and even collapsed lungs. A high school student in Michigan was hospitalized after attempting the cinnamon challenge, and a 4-year old Kentucky boy died after ingesting too much cinnamon.

After the cinnamon challenge, there was the “salt and ice challenge”, the “Sprite and banana challenge”, the “Diet Coke and Mentos challenge”, and hundreds of other ridiculous challenges that took the internet by storm. Most people probably remember the ALS ice bucket challenge that circulated on Facebook and Twitter several years ago – probably the only internet challenge that ended up with positive results.

And now, the most recent viral challenge that has been sweeping social media is the “Sharpie Shock Challenge”. Searching for #sharpieshockchallenge yields hundreds of results on Twitter and Instagram, and searching for “Sharpie Shock Challenge” on YouTube yields over 6,500 results, mostly of teens “shocking” themselves via the method.

How to Do the Sharpie Shock Challenge

This challenge involves drawing a solid box (or really any other shape) with a black Sharpie permanent marker on the skin of the challenged, most often the back of the hand or inside of the wrist. From there, the challenged is tasked with placing the flash of a smartphone camera directly onto the Sharpie-darkened patch of skin, and taking a photo, often experiencing a “shock”, or at least a “shocking” sensation.

Learn More: Here’s the Science Behind How the Sharpie Shock Challenge Works

Does the Sharpie Shock Challenge Actually Work?

So, does the Sharpie shock challenge work? Well, that’s debatable. There certainly is no “shock” to speak of – according to urban legend debunking site Snopes, there is likely no “scientific principle that could explain how a brief camera flash could heat up a Sharpie marking pen enough to induce a shock, or how Sharpie ink could facilitate conducting electricity.” Why, then, do you see such dramatic reactions from people online who attempt the challenge?

While many people do report a slight “pinch” or burning sensation, many of the reactions that you see online are likely heavily exaggerated. However, that pinch is likely due to the black ink absorbing the strong flash of light from the camera. Unwilling to take the word of the internet at face value, I attempted the Sharpie shock challenge myself. I did indeed feel a slight pinch when the flash activated, but certainly nowhere near enough to make me jump, or throw my phone across the room as can be seen in many of the videos.

Is the Sharpie Shock Challenge Dangerous?

Probably the more important question, however, is whether or not the Sharpie shock challenge is dangerous. Many schools have sent letters home to parents, warning of the dangers of the challenge, and there are a bit more outlandish rumors circulating online of third-degree burns or worse as a result of the challenge. If it is true that the pinching sensation is due to a slight burn from the black ink absorbing the heat from the flash, there is a chance that repeated exposure to the challenge may cause some minor burns. However, reports of third-degree burns from the challenge are likely exaggerated if not altogether untrue.

That said, one could also argue that nothing good can come from the Sharpie shock challenge – the internet will likely have moved on to another fad by the time anyone could seriously injure themselves performing the challenge anyway.

Why Would Someone Try the Sharpie Shock Challenge?

Even if the Sharpie Shock Challenge isn’t considered dangerous in the usual sense of the word, it still causes concern why someone would willingly try a challenge that could result in pain. As it turns out, this is actually a common phenomenon in the study of psychology. A person who attempts the Sharpie Shock Challenge would be known as a sensation seeker. This term describers a person who is more likely to take risks, calculated or otherwise, simply in order to satisfy their curiosity, according to Snopes.

What do you think about the Sharpie shock challenge? Let us know in the comments.

Featured Photo Copyright: Nikada


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