High Sensation Seeking & The Highly Sensitive Person—You May Be Surprised!
Tracy Cooper, Ph.D.
Author, Tracy Cooper, Ph.D defines how High Sensation Seeking (HSS) shows up in the Highly Sensitive Person, and the 4 core aspects of Sensation Seeking. Dr. Cooper talks about ADHD vs. HSS, and the role dopamine plays in sensation seeking. We talk about being in flow, and the relationship between anxiety, depression. Dr. Cooper says HSPs are wired for creativity (so are sensation seekers). We explore how HSPs are impacted by social media. Dr. Cooper talks about what we can do when we’re overactivated, and how boundaries can help the HSP.
- In the 1960’s Marvin Zuckerman was doing research on sensory deprivation using deprivation tanks
- Those people that became restless fairly quickly and were thought to need stimulation, leading Zuckerman and his colleagues to develop Sensation Seeking as a personality trait.
- 30% of Highly Sensitive People are High Sensation Seekers (HSS)
- It is presumed that of that 30 % of HSS/HSPs, 30% are extroverts and 70% are introverts
- The 4 core aspects of Sensation Seeking are
- 1. Thrill and adventure seeking—bungee jumping, parachuting, adrenaline rush type activities. It can also mean driving fast, exciting TV shows, anything that provides a physical rush.
- Most HSPs are not this type
- 2. Experience and novelty seeking—travelling, foodies, reading new books. They are not satisfied with ordinary things and will seek out unusual or different experiences for the sake of having them.
- Boredom susceptibility—want stimulation, boredom can be physically painful, and boredom is their worst enemy, their capacities are begging to be engaged
- 4. Disinhibition—willingness to exceed normal bounds of behavior for the thrill of having an experience. They may not be concerned with legal, financial, relational or personal repercussions, which can lead to disastrous results. Can experiment with drugs, sexual behavior, parties, may go before the light turns green or doesn’t stop fully at stop signs. May exceed speed limits or tailgate, use cars and driving to seek thrills.
- Sensation seeking is a general trait that is seen in the larger population
- Any extreme expression of a trait is never a good thing. The moderate to moderate-high expression is where the advantages are realized.
- You can imagine a bell-shaped curve for the expression of sensation seeking where the majority will fall in the middle, comparatively fewer at the extreme on both ends.
- There is a crossover in HSPs between novelty & new experiences and boredom susceptibility, but you don’t typically see a crossover with thrill & adventure and disinhibition because Sensory Processing Sensitivity is about pausing think first before doing.
- All humans are sensation seeking to some degree. Men more than women.
- Experience and novelty seeking can be a powerful drive
- We get a “hit” of dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s pleasure pathway) when we engage in sensation seeking. This feel-good rush entices us to do more to get another rush.
- There is a tension between the HSP and the HSS. If the HSS wins out it can lead to burn out for the HSP quite easily. One must learn to balance the two traits by understanding the giftedness inherent in both traits.
- ADHD vs. HSS
- They share some components
- The HSS focuses on stimulation. Once they get the stimulation, they can still focus
- The ADHD brain can’t get the stimulation it needs (when it gets even a small amount it wants more until it is overloaded)
- If the person doesn’t get stimulation they don’t function as well, or they don’t function and isolate (like playing video games to excess)
- HSPs and HSS/HSPs may seek stimulation through other people
- We absorb energy from other people and through social interactions, and we get a dopamine hit from the interaction if it is positive.
- When the HSS side rules out, it takes the HSP along for the ride, which can leave the HSP exhausted afterward
- When we block things out (HSS side), we can become less patient, less sensitive and less empathetic
- We don’t want to lose the HSP trait because we want to maintain the traits of patience, sensitivity and empathy
- It’s about learning to balance our HSP and HSS parts
- We can get addicted to sensation seeking if we are not aware of this risk.
- Boredom susceptibility—we have to do things to stay in our optimal range of arousal since that is the preference
- When are we in entropy, depression, and anxiety
- This is a natural state, according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when we’re NOT in flow
- We spend too much time in our heads, and our capacities are begging to be engaged
- It’s important to break out of our rut by getting in touch with our curiosity and sense of wonder
- We may need to push ourselves to do new things
- Our natural tendency as HSPs is to be positive and open but cautious
- You can get a friend to go with you or meet you if it’s challenging to try new things
- You can remind yourself that if you try something new, you can always leave if you don’t like it
- Analysis/paralysis—if we had a bad experience or got overstimulated, and we have an opportunity to engage in a similar activity, we decline based on past experience due to overthinking. If we do this repeatedly, we can get stuck in a rut, and our world can become too small
- We can use mindfulness when this happens
- We can know that we can only experience 1 moment at a time and be open to each new moment
- Flow state—our skills are matched to the task, and we are fully engaged and absorbed in that state (we don’t experience anxiety or depression)
- If the task is too hard, we experience anxiety; if the task is not challenging enough, we experience boredom
- Being in flow is the best play experience
- HSPs are wired for creativity
- We traditionally thing of creativity in terms of an artistic end-product
- HSPs are naturally predisposed to creativity and creative thinking
- HSPs engage in creative thinking naturally but need to build their ability to think rationally and critically to complement creative thinking, they are synergistic and interdependent.
- HSPs noticed more things when shown visual scenes—they were more empathetic, and showed a broader emotional range, psychologically androgynous.
- HSPs can set boundaries that limit overstimulation
- HSPs can practice anticipating what they will do if a boundary is crossed
- When we’re overstimulated/overactivated
- Enforcing boundaries is most important
- We need to know where the boundary is—often we find the boundary only when we hit a limit
- If you’re overstimulated (aversive state)
- Withdraw—take time away
- Allow your body to relax, dispel the pent-up energy
- Use self-compassion and be kind to yourself
- Reframe—that wasn’t so bad; it was temporary; I recovered
- Social media/electronics/boredom and addiction
- HSSs seek stimulation through people as much as through external sources
- With electronics we tend to gravitate to people like us (confirmation bias—values/people similar to you), ignore information that disagrees with current beliefs.
- Technology can be an addiction
- We do better when we’re outside, moving around, and being sedentary and indoors can be highly detrimental to HSPs
- Anxiety isn’t always a negative—it asks you to think about what you’re doing. Anxiety will usually dissipate once you are engaged
- We’ve got to learn to develop self-care practices
- If you struggle with overthinking
- Take a class that uses your hands/body/mind
- Learn when to put the brakes on thinking
- Allow a specific amount of time (15 minutes a day) to worry/think
- Getting outside, taking a walk, time in nature, or talking it over with a trusted friend are all ways to shift out of overthinking
Any extreme expression of a trait is never a good thing. The moderate to moderate-high expression is where the potential of the trait is realized best.
All humans are sensation seeking to some degree
Novelty is a powerful drive
We prefer to do things that keep us in our optimal range of arousal
We spend too much time in our heads, and our capacities are begging to be engaged
HSPs and HSS/HSPs are wired for creativity
Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is an expert in the areas of highly sensitive people and career, the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person, the highly sensitive man, and highly sensitive people and creativity. He has written two books, Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person. His forthcoming book is titled Empowering the Sensitive Male Soul. Dr. Cooper appeared in the 2015 documentary film, Sensitive-The Untold Story. He is the Department Chairman for Baker University’s Master of Liberal Arts program and a faculty member. Dr. Cooper regularly works with individuals in career crisis and transition, as well as corporations interested in diversity and inclusion initiatives for HSPs, innovation and HSS/HSPs, and frequently speaks on subjects related to sensory processing sensitivity and sensation seeking.
Patricia Young works with Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) helping them to understand their HSP traits, and turning their perceived shortcomings into superpowers. Patricia is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who is passionate about providing education to help HSPs and non-HSPs understand and truly appreciate the amazing gifts they have to offer. Patricia works globally online with HSPs providing coaching. Patricia also facilitates online groups for HSPs that focus on building community and developing skills (identifying your superpowers, boundaries, perfectionism, dealing with conflict, mindfulness, embracing emotions, creating a lifestyle that supports the HSP, communication and more).
Dr. Tracy Cooper’s links
Flow by Mihaly Cziksventmihalyi
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
HSP Online Course–https://unapologeticallysensitive.com/hsp-online-groups/
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