Thrill-Seekers' Brains May Be Wired Differently

THURSDAY Feb. 19, 2009 -- The thrill-seeking behavior that makes people love skydiving, mountain-climbing or other intense activities might be based in an area of the brain that has been linked to addictive behaviors.

University of Kentucky and Purdue University researchers studied volunteers who were grouped as either "high-sensation seekers" or "low-sensation seekers" based on their responses to personality surveys and questionnaires on risk-taking.

Then, functional MRI was used to scan the participants' brains while they looked at photographs ranging from mundane images, such as cows and food, to emotional and arousing images, such as erotic scenes and violent pictures.

When high-sensation seekers viewed the emotional or arousing images, their brains showed increased activity in the region called the insula. Previous studies have found this area is active during addictive behaviors, such as craving cigarettes. When the low-sensation seekers saw the emotional or arousing images, activity increased in their brains' frontal cortex, which controls emotions.

The findings, published in the February issue of Psychological Science, could indicate the way by which sensation-seeking can result in negative behaviors, such as substance abuse and antisocial conduct, the researchers said.

"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," the researchers concluded.

More information

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has more on the anatomy of the brain.

Posted: February 2009


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