Emory University clinical psychologist Ken Carter is looking for thrill seekers and scaredy-cats to take an online survey to determine how much of a “sensation seeker” they really are.
Participants who take the survey at http://buzz.drkencarter.com can find out instantly how they rank in four sensation-seeking categories (thrill/adventure seeking; experience seeking; disinhibition; and boredom susceptibility). So while you may not like to sky-dive, you may learn that you still exhibit a sensation-seeking trait associated with people who enjoy new, complex and intense sensations and experiences.
Sample survey questions include the following: “Do you like wild uninhibited parties, or do you prefer quiet parties with good conversations?” “Are there some movies you enjoy seeing a second or third time, or can you not stand watching a movie you’ve seen before?”
Carter’s goal is to extract data about high sensation-seeking individuals (aka adrenaline junkies) for research that could be used by counselors and therapists. He envisions the test also being an information tool for the general public wanting some fresh insight into their personality tendencies.
Carter said therapists could use the information from the surveys to help clients who may seem to have ADHD or be bipolar (both associated with increased risky decision making and behavior) but in actuality, the client is really just an adrenaline junkie and may only need help in making better decisions.
Being high sensation seeking is not a problem in itself, according to Carter, who added that there are advantages for those who covet thrills. The adrenaline junkie who feels a sense of calm when sky diving is likely to feel relaxed in a high-pressure situation.
Still, he would “have a reason for pause” if a person scores extremely high on sensation seeking, but also has scores suggesting low inhibitions and a tendency to get bored easily. That’s because a person seeking a thrill with such scores may engage in risky dangerous behavior without thinking it through. On the flip side, someone who feeds off high sensation experiences but doesn’t get bored easily and doesn’t act without restraint will jump off the cliff into a watering hole — but not before making sure the water is deep enough and that they are jumping at a safe distance and that the temperature of the water is not too cold and so on.
Dr. J. Kip Matthews, an Athens psychologist, agreed that it’s important to remember that high sensation seeking is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when high sensation seeking is coupled with impulsivity, then you have a potentially dangerous combination that could easily lead to someone getting hurt on many levels — physically, financially, emotionally and so on. He said he believes it’s important to conduct studies like this Emory one to help “advance our understanding of human behavior.”
“Not only will we better grasp the traits that underpin so many unhealthy behaviors, but we can also learn which activities are completely normal and should not be pathologized,” Matthews said.
Ultimately, Carter said we need a mix of personality types.
“We need to have low sensation-seeking people to help us from going off a cliff,” he said, “but we need those high sensation folks, we need them because if we go off a cliff, they will know what to do.”
Carter’s website features the results from a 23-year-old recent graduate who is a big-time thrill seeker who has gone sky diving multiple times, has tried cliff diving and even got a high from running with the bulls. In fact, he didn’t want to give his full name to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution out of concern he could be considered a liability and increase the premium for his family’s health insurance policy. He scored a 10 out of 10 for thrill and adventure seeking. But Carter, who analyzed this man’s results and spoke to him afterward, said neither of his scores on easy boredom nor disinhibition was high, suggesting he is not one to rush into anything.
Carter took the test and found low scores in everything but experience seeking, where he scored a 6 on a 1 to 10 scale. (He scored a 1 on boredom tendencies, 2 for thrill and adventure seeking, 3 for disinhibition.)
“If I am going to evaluate myself, I love new experiences as long as they are safe. And I am OK doing the same thing every day. I am one of those people also who can stare at a wall for 10 hours and it doesn’t bother me. I waited in line for 10 hours for the new iPhone, and being in line that long didn’t bother me one bit.”
He likes trying new things such as new ice cream flavors or a new breakfast dish. But if he doesn’t see something he’s never tried before, he goes with the American breakfast — scrambled eggs, bacon and wheat toast — time and time again.
PREVIEW OF THE TEST
These sample questions can give you things to think about.
You might not be an adrenaline junkie, but that doesn’t mean you are a bore. Maybe you are someone who likes rich experiences as long as they are safe.
Directions: Each of the items below contains two choices. Please indicate which of the choices most describes your likes or the way you feel. There are no right or wrong answers.
A. I like “wild” uninhibited parties.
B. I prefer quiet parties with good conversation.
A. There are some movies I enjoy seeing a second or even a third time.
B. I can’t stand watching a movie that I’ve seen before.
A. I often wish I could be a mountain climber.
B. I can’t understand people who risk their necks climbing mountains.
A. I dislike all body odors.
B. I like some earthly body smells.
A. I like to explore a strange city or section of town by myself, even if it means getting lost.
B. I prefer a guide when I am in a place I don’t know well.
A. I usually don’t enjoy a movie or play where I can predict what will happen in advance.
B. I don’t mind watching a movie or a play where I can predict what will happen in advance.
A. A sensible person avoids activities that are dangerous.
B. I sometimes like to do things that are a little frightening.
A. I like to try new foods that I have never tasted before.
B. I order foods with which I am familiar, so as to avoid disappointment and unpleasantness.
A. I would like to take up water skiing.
B. I would not like to take up water skiing.
A. I would like to take off on a trip with no preplanned or definite routes, or timetable.
B. When I go on a trip, I like to plan my route and timetable fairly carefully.
A. I would not like to learn to fly an airplane.
B. I would like to learn to fly an airplane.
A. I am not interested in experience for its own sake.
B. I like to have new and exciting experiences and sensations even if they are a little frightening, unconventional or illegal.
A. The essence of good art is in its clarity, symmetry of form and harmony of colors.
B. I often find beauty in the “clashing” colors and irregular forms of modern paintings.
A. I enjoy spending time in the familiar surroundings of home.
B. I get very restless if I have to stay around home for any length of time.
A. I like to date people who are physically exciting.
B. I like to date people who share my values.
NOTE: For the complete survey and to get an immediate analysis of your personality traits, go to http://buzz.drkencarter.com. (FYI: Because this is just a sampling, some question numbers don’t match the complete survey.)
This survey is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own health care professional. The sensation seeking scale is adapted from one created by Marvin Zuckerman, author of “Behavioral Expressions and Biosocial Bases of Sensation Seeking.”