Are You a Thrill Seeker?


Skydiving: pure transcendence

We all take risks. Whether schussing down a snowy couloir or speaking in front of a group, we  have all known the feeling of pushing our own envelope. Stepping into our fear can bring moments of great enlightenment. The thrilling edge between danger and suicide found in today’s surge of outdoor adventures has replaced religious asceticism as the way to transcendence.

Jumping out of airplanes and flying off cliffs is the new Nirvana.

Marvin Zuckerman, a psychology professor from University of Delaware, termed the phrase “sensation-seeker” for those that search for novelty and excitement. Chemicals in our brain govern our risk reward calculus. When we enjoy a thrill, our brains are flooded with dopamine, our own personal pleasure cocktail. Dopamine sits on our shoulder woohooing and heehawing while we walk the thin line of danger. Other chemicals, namely MAO monoamine oxidase, temper that enthusiasm. MAO gobbles up the dopamine sluicing through our brain, all the while whispering into our other ear, telling us to “watch out, this could be dangerous.”

Turns out, dopamine to MAO ratios differ in each of us. Risk-taking behavior is 60% determined by our genes, while the rest is shaped by our environment. Thrill seeking tends to run in the family. And yet, it too, can be learned.

I am fascinated by this slackline between risk and reward. As predicted by neuroscientists and psychologists, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for risk has diminished. Still, I score high on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale. This test was developed to determine factors in all risk-takers, only one of which is thrill-seeking and adventure. But as we grow older, we develop more MAO, and that whispery voice warning us of risk grows stronger.

Find out where you stand on the scale. Just click on the image below to go to the test. Were you surprised by the results?


11 responses »

    • Brett!
      The other person in the photo is me. We jumped together. You probably don’t remember it nearly as vividly as I do. Kasha took the photo and I now have a copy of it on my refrigerator reminding me of that day.

  1. Love the tandem sky-dive photo, Kim. I have one, too! I loved your book, too, which made me wish I was a braver more daring person: you rock, and at the same time you ARE a rock! What a combo.

    Only one test result surprised me: seems I’m inhibited. I have no qualms about changing clothes in public, dancing in the street, or sharing personal stories, so I’m not sure why I scored 3 out of 10 on disinhibition. Maybe because a few damaging relationships have left me with a few hang-ups about drugs & alcohol? The rest was as expected: I’m into thrills and new experiences, and though some things bore me I usually find the fun anyway. My sensation-seeking score: 25.

  2. Interesting test, especially in light of your other blog post about judgement. Way back when I probably would have scored in the high 30’s, but since I’ve gained enough judgement to know that I’d rather not get drunk and doped up and be unfaithful to my wife I only scored 17. *rolleyes*

    BTW, found your blog through the post about how to not piss off patrollers. Good stuff, and I love the way you responded to the delinquents who gave you flack. Very classy! You have a lot more patience than I do.

    • Thanks Tom. I came across this test while researching my next book project. I am interested in risk-taking and thrill seekers. The more we take risks, the more judgment we must build. This test focuses on both positive and negative types of risk, so a high score will reflect one’s willingness for what the experts call “disinhibition”, meaning sex, drugs and rock and roll.

      • Yeah Kim, I get it, but since that I gave a thumbs up to everything else I’d have expected to get more than a 17. I’d expect 20 to be your average Joe, and, given that I’ll eat anything and I still want to sky dive, bowhunt grizzley bears and do all of that other crazy stuff, I’m not him. At least, most of the people I know think I’m nuts… even the ones that still do dope. I guess it depends on what you call a thrill.

  3. Pingback: Less is More- Weekly Writing Challenge « Anecdotal Tales

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