The concept of sensation seeking had been initially used in Zuckerman’s work (1971), even though the meaning of the phrase suffered changes over time. At first, Zuckerman had described sensation seeking as a “trait defined by the need of variety, novelty and complex of sensations and experiences accompanied by the need of taking physical and social risks for the sake of the experience”. Sensation seeking was then conceptualized as a trait dependent on age and gender (Roth, Schumacher & Brähler, 2005). However, Zuckerman has recently rejected his own definition of sensation seeking as a necessity, replacing it with a trait which involves “search for variety, novelty, sensations and complex and intense experiences”. However, defining sensation seeking without the involved necessity leads to a completely descriptive conceptualization, without an explicative function. Even Zuckerman himself has sometimes continued to talk about the “need” for sensations. Apart from this breach of logic (defining “sensation seeking” as a “search”), some issues also appear when sensation seeking is defined and handled based on very specific behaviours laid down in the Sensation Seeking Scale – Form V (Zuckerman, 1994). (Roth & Hammelstein, 2012)

The Nature of Sensation Seeking in Teenagers

Some people associate sensation seeking with “risk seeking”. However, the above-mentioned definition accentuates “the desire” of taking risks for the rewards which come along with stimulation, such as novelty and intensity. Others consider that this search is the same thing with “thrill-seeking”, which involves activities with physical risk. Zuckerman has suggested that the impulsive sensation seeking is a basic factor of personality, a strong predictor of a wide range of problematic behaviours: delinquency, food disorders, ADHD, drug and alcohol consumption, low school performance.

Glicksohn and Abulafia (1998) have suggested that sensation seeking should be reconsidered in terms of two distinct factors: an impulsive and asocial one (ImpUSS), composed of disinhibition (DIS) and experiences seeking (ES) and boredom susceptibility (BS), alongside with a non-impulsive, social factor, composed of emotions and adventure seeking (TAS). (Surányi et al., 2013)

Associations of Sensation Seeking with Personality Traits and Academic Performance

Egorova et al., (2014) have made a study about the association between sensation seeking and personality traits, such as self-control, self esteem, emotional health and others. The participants have been 432 students aged between 16 and 26. The general sensation seeking and the search for some sub-traits have been positively correlated with extraversion and psyche and negatively with neuroticism. The preference for sensations has been associated with masculinity, the locus of internal control, low efficiency in the past and relatively high efficiency in the present. The preference for external activities has been negatively correlated with anxiety and frustration and positively with self-control and emotional intelligence.

The dual model of taking risks system during adolescence describes this period as one characterized by sensation seeking and self-control in the making, but the majority of affirmations of this model has been tested in U.S. or West Europe. In Steinberg’s study et al. (2017), the same affirmations are internationally tested on a sample of over 5000 people aged between 10 and 30 from eleven countries of Africa, Asia, Europe and U.S., by using a multimethod which includes both self-characterisation and measurements based on the performance of both of the concepts. In accordance with the dual systems model, sensation seeking develops between preadolescence and late adolescence, peaks at the age of 19 and then decreases, while self-control increases between preadolescence and adulthood, and reaches to a steady stage between the ages of 23 and 26. Although some variations have occurred with the observed age categories, the developing patterns have been mostly similar in all eleven countries.

Previous studies show that sensation seeking is associated with lower academical performances for the primary and secondary school students. Cladellas’s study et al. (2017) has targeted the relationship between sensation seeking and academic performance on a sample of 216 high school students (55.6% girls) aged between 16 and 18. The results have showed that girls have got significantly higher averages and that the academic performance has been associated with low scores of sensation seeking to both genders.

Sensation seeking can be linked to extraversion and impulsiveness. Hartman’s study from 1992 shows that sensation seeking is higher to athletes than to those who do not practice any sport, and that male sportsmen are more willing to sensations than females. Another study from 1987 demonstrates that the level of sensation seeking to dozens of wrestlers, football and hockey players is significantly lower than the volleyball, baseball and bowling ones. Merten and Fescher (1999) studied the personality traits of writers and actors, using the Eysenck test and they discovered that the creative group was bigger that the control one to psychosis dimension. Richards (1993) compared the psychological and personal dimensions of students and teachers from art high schools with their colleagues from other high schools and discovered that those from the vocational high schools were more tolerant to anxiety and to emotions in general, but not to introversion. Also, Marchant and Wilson (1992) compared the personality traits of artists (actors, dancers, musicians and singers) to the normal population. Their conclusions were that actors were extrovert and expressive, while dancers were sad, anxious, conservative and they had a low self-esteem, and singers were more anxious during shows. Paiker (1998) has showed that visual artists are more introverted than other people, and Haghighi et al. (2003) has concluded that the score average of the neuroses in the groups of artist and non-artists is not statistically significant, but that there are significant differences in extraversion, sensation seeking and conscientiousness. (Jeshvaghani et al., 2012)

Cultural Variations and Implications for Public Policy

It must be highlighted that studying the sensation seeking behaviour is not just a critical side of the teenage years, but at the same time is important in forming public policy. By using the results of such studies, the decision-makers could prevent more easily the risking activities for these students who find their purposes in searching for new challenges.


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Jeshvaghani, A.A., Manshaei, G., Dehkordi, K.M., Vasefpour, H. (2012). The Comparison of Sensation Seeking among Musicians, Visual, and Dramatic Artists. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Vol 46, pp.  3320-3323,

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