Thrill-seeking behavior is common among adolescents and adults alike. However, recent studies suggest that risky behavior among adolescents is on the rise. There is debate whether some individuals are more vulnerable to thrill-seeking impulses than others. If some adolescents are more inclined to engage in risk behaviors, is it psychobiological, genetic, or are environmental factors to blame? Perhaps it is a combination of all of these. This paper will discuss Zuckerman’s theory of “thrill-seeking” personality and examine two studies whose focus is the possible link between environment and family-relationship factors and adolescent risk-taking behavior.
The study of voluntary risk-taking or thrill-seeking has yielded a number of unique and yet similar interpretations of thrill-seeking personality and behavior. Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman of the University of Delaware refers to individuals who engage in highly arousing activities as “sensation-seekers”. These individuals seek intense and complex sensations and experiences and are willing to take risks for the sake of such experience. Thrill-seeking individuals have strong positive affective reactions to situations of novelty & risk, are sensitive to internal sensations and choose environments that enhance them (NIDA). Dr. Zuckerman theorized that there are varying types of sensation-seeking and developed a scale to measure such types. Zuckerman divided sensation-seeking into four categories; thrill and adventure-seeking, experience-seeking, disinhibition, and susceptibility to boredom. Sensation seekers engage in activities such as extreme sports, traveling, hiking and camping, attending social gatherings, or playing computer and video games. Other behaviors within these four categories include participation in smoking, drinking, illicit drugs, unsafe sex, reckless driving, and gambling.
Zuckerman’s theory on thrill-seeking personality does not suggest abnormality. Still the author maintains that, while thrill-seeking and the risk-taking behaviors associated with them can be a positive personality characteristic, it does include behaviors that are dangerous. Thrill-seeking and the degree to which it is pursued are based largely on the level of stimulation required to satiate the individuals craving for excitement, or as Zuckerman states “the individuals need to reach and maintain an optimum level of arousal.”(Loas et al.)
The most problematic of thrill-seeking behaviors are those that test the limits of socially accepted behavior. While these risky behaviors may be considered common their negative impact on an individual and society is worth noting.For example, promiscuous and unprotected sex results in the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases , HIV, and unwanted pregnancy. While drinking alcohol may be a socially accepted practice, when taken to an extreme it results in highway fatalities, alcohol poisoning, and damage to the brain and liver. Use of illegal drugs is much the same with an increased probability of violence and gun use.