Born to be wild? Thrill-seeking behavior may be based in the brain

Feb 11, 2009

Sky diving and base jumping are not for everyone. However, for certain people, the more risk and adrenaline involved in an activity, the better! What draws some people to daredevil behavior while others shy away from it? Psychologists Jane E. Joseph, Xun Liu, Yang Jiang and Thomas H. Kelly from the University of Kentucky, along with Donald Lyman of Purdue University were interested in testing how the brains of sensation-seekers differ from those of us who avoid risky behavior.

In these experiments, two sets of volunteers were recruited, high sensation seekers or low sensation seekers, based on their responses to personality surveys and risk-taking questionnaires. They were shown a variety of photographs while having their brains scanned with functional MRI (fMRI). The photographs ranged from mundane scenes (for example, cows and food) to very emotional and arousing images, such as erotic scenes and violent pictures.

The results, described in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal some very interesting differences between high sensation seekers and low sensation seekers. The brain images showed that when high sensation seekers viewed the arousing photographs, there was increased activity in the brain region known as the insula. Previous research has shown that the insula is active during addictive behaviors, such as craving cigarettes. However, when low sensation seekers looked at arousing photographs, there was increased activity in the frontal cortex area of the brain. The researchers note that this was an interesting finding because that region is important for controlling emotions. The results show that high sensation seekers respond very strongly to arousing cues, but have less activity in brain areas associated with emotional regulation.

The authors note that their findings may indicate the way by which sensation seeking results in negative behaviors, including substance abuse and antisocial behavior. They conclude, "Individuals high in sensation seeking not only are strongly activated by exciting, thrilling and potentially dangerous activities, but also may be less likely than other people to inhibit or appropriately regulate that activation."

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study links personal, corporate risk-taking

Aug 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A CEO who enjoys the adrenaline rush of flying a private airplane is more likely than other chief executives to exhibit similarly bold management characteristics, according to a new study by finance professors ...

New research backs FDA ban on flavored cigarettes

Dec 15, 2009

New research showing that thrill-seeking teenagers are especially susceptible to fruit-flavored cigarettes is in line with the recent ban on the sale of flavored cigarettes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in ...

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

6 hours ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.