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Sensation Seeking Personality

Sensation Seeking Personality

"Sensation Seeking" is a trait defined by the search for experiences and feelings, that are varied, new, complex and intense, and by the readiness of experiencing those physical, social, legal, and financial experiences.


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Mee Young Jeong

Mee Young Jeong

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Sensation-seeking behavior has been shown to increase the likelihood of infidelity and create general tensions within relationships in which there is a mismatch between partners on this trait (Zuckerman, 1990). Relationship problems or failure and a desire for novel stimulation may increase the probability of this trait being present in the client group. This suggestion is consistent with the finding that sensation seeking has been related to engagement in a variety of risky activities, most particularly in-the area of heterosexual experience (Zuckerman, 1979).

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The new research published by the American Psychological Association links the personality characteristic of sensation seeking - the tendency to seek varied and intense sensations and experiences - with a greater risk of smoking which may be due to heightened initial sensitivity to nicotine.
Scientists found that patients scoring high on sensation-seeking personality tests were more sensitive to nicotine's mood-altering influences when the nicotine dose was at the lower level tested, 10 ug/kg.

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Sensation seeking and paranormal belief are conceptually related in that paranormal beliefs may provide excitement for those who seek greater stimulation than others. This is supported by Kumar, Pekala and Cummings' (1993) finding that greater overall sensation seeking scores and specifically, greater thrill and adventure seeking and experience seeking, were associated with greater paranormal belief as well as a greater number of reported paranormal experiences.

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Results: Subjects reporting high-risk sexual behaviour were found to have higher sensation seeking scores in all the domains of the sensation seeking scale compared to those without high-risk sexual behaviour. Scores on the subscale disinhibition, of the sensation seeking scale seemed to be associated with higher sexual risk taking.
Interpretation & conclusion: Sensation seeking as a personality variable was significantly associated with sexual risk taking behaviour among heavy alcohol users. The study indicates the need for careful assessment of personality in these individuals and emphasizes the need for further studies on a larger sample.

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The Sensation Seeking Scale, Form 5 (Zuckerman et al., 1978), consists of four subscales: Thrill and Adventure Seeking, which measures the desire to engage in sports and activities involving danger or speed; Experience Seeking, which measures the desire for unusual sensations or experiences associated with a nonconformist life style; Disinhibition, which measures the desire for social and sexual experiences as expressed in social drinking, partying, and a variety of sexual partners; and Boredom Susceptibility, which measures aversion to repetition, routine, and dull people. A total score is derived from the summation of the four subscale scores.

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Research supports a correlation between the sensation-seeking personality trait to participation in high-risk sports such as: skydiving (Hymbaugh & Garrett, 1974); whitewater kayaking and canoeing (Campbell, Tyrrell, & Zingaro, 1993); mountaineering (Breivik, 1996); rock climbing (Robinson, 1985); and scuba diving (Heyman & Rose, 1979). High sensation-seeking individuals have lower perceptions of risk than do low sensation seekers, who appraise risky situations with a higher perception of risk (Rosenbloom, 2003; Zuckerman, 1994). Martin and Priest (1986), in their Adventure Experience Paradigm, suggest that perceived risk and perceived competence change due to involvement in adventure experiences (e.g., Priest & Bunting, 1993; Priest & Carpenter, 1993; Vagias, Morais, & Dziubek, 2005).

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Sensation seeking is associated with sexual activity relevant to HIV transmission. For example, Fisher and Misovich (1990) found that sensation seeking significantly correlated with number of sexual partners for both gay men and heterosexuals, and that sensation seeking correlated with the number of unfamiliar sexual partners reported by college students. Likewise, Newcomb and McGee (1991) identified significant relationships among heterosexual experiences and sensation seeking, particularly with respect to disinhibition and boredom susceptibility. Other studies have also shown that sensation seeking predicts sexual risk behavior (Seal and Agostinelli, 1994) and greater numbers of sexual partners, even when protected by condoms (Temple et al., 1993).

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Sanchez and other psychologists believe sensation seeking is a personality trait because low-level sensation seekers almost never become high-level sensation seekers, and vice versa.
"Using the roller coaster example," she said, "I don't know of anyone who once hated roller coasters and has grown to like them."
Robert P. Archer, a psychologist who teaches at Eastern Virginia Medical School, also believes sensation seeking is a legitimate personality trait.
Archer, an expert in personality assessment, suspects that amusement parks attract more high-level sensation seekers. That may be why the lines for roller coasters typically are longer than the lines at other, tamer rides. Fewer people come to amusement parks to ride those rides.

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In addition, "sensation seeking," which comes midway between the "broad" personality concepts such as "neuroticism" and traits that Jaccard and Wilson (1991) would regard as "more specific to the problem at hand," deserves further consideration because of its relevance already demonstrated in a number of studies. This concept has generated an extensive literature (see Zuckerman, 1994), and has recently been defined as "the seeking of varied, novel, complex and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experience" (p. 27).

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Sensation seeking, defined as a need to "reach and maintain an optimum level of arousal" and a need for "varied, novel, and complex sensations ... and willingness to take risks for the sake of such experiences" (Zuckerman et al., 1964; Zuckerman, 1994) has been consistently associated with a variety of risky behaviors. These behaviors include dangerous driving (reviewed in Jonah, 1997), sexual risk taking (reviewed in Hoyle et al., 2000), engaging in high-risk sports (Franques et al., 2003), and a propensity for substance abuse (e.g., Crawford et al., 2003). This trait is particularly relevant to the study of risk behavior among substance-dependent individuals given that the proposed neurobiological underpinnings of sensation seeking may overlap with neural pathways that underlie the pleasurable and addictive properties of various substances (i.e., mesolimbic and mesocortical dopaminergic pathways).

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