Sensation-seeking, also called excitement-seeking, is the tendency to pursue sensory pleasure and excitement. It's the trait of people who go after novelty, complexity, and intense sensations, who love experience for its own sake, and who may take risks in the pursuit of such experience. Sensation seekers are "easily bored without high levels of stimulation," explains psychologist Sam Gosling. "They love bright lights and hustle and bustle and like to take risks and seek thrills." Sensation-seekers are motivated by the immediate gratification sensory experiences can provide, so they may disregard the dangers that can accompany risky behaviors such as gambling, drugs, or reckless driving. Despite the hazards of certain behaviors, risk-taking has value and serves an important evolutionary purpose. Without the courage to advance into unknown, potentially dangerous territory, the human species may not have found new mates, populated the globe, or established the societies deemed most valuable.
What Is Sensation-Seeking?
Risk-taking is necessary and provides opportunities for growth at all levels of social organization. It is a means by which individuals grow and expand a sense of self. Placing oneself in an unfamiliar or even perilous situation—learning to scuba dive or pilot a plane—pushes a person out of his or her comfort zone, prompts paying complete attention to a task, and forces trust in one's mind, body, and instincts. The process can deepen a sense of self-confidence and boost one's sense of control over life. It may also have the effect of putting seemingly important concerns into perspective. Even though it exposes them to harm, some degree of risk-taking is especially necessary for adolescents to grow. Mastering risky challenges can lead people to reevaluate what they are capable of—and that expanded self-concept can carry over to many other facets of life.