For the high sensation-seeking personality, intense sensation is the most sensational experience of all. 

If you have this type of personality, it means you prefer to live your life with boundless energy and enthusiasm. You constantly seek out new experiences that will delight, surprise, stimulate and invigorate you – and you may indulge to excess. 

People may characterize you as a thrill-seeker, risk-taker and adrenaline junkie. But is there more to this personality than meets the eye? Let's find out.

The ABCs of high-sensation seeking

The concept of the high sensation-seeking (HSS) person was conceived by University of Delaware psychologist Morton Zuckerman. He identified four distinct personality traits these people shared:

  • Thrill and adventure seeking
  • Disinhibition
  • Experience seeking
  • Boredom susceptibility

To measure these traits, Zuckerman developed his Sensation Seeking Scale. This test can successfully detect high sensation-seeking personalities, differentiating them from people who may be a little bit adventure-seeking, for example, but not enough for it to influence most of their life choices.

The need to be stimulated is a normal human characteristic. However, it can get HSS personalities in trouble if they indulge their urges too readily and with little or no reflection. Research shows that unhealthy HSS’s are prone to developing substance addictions and self-destructive behaviors.

Well-adjusted sensation-seekers, on the other hand, are known for their bold, daring and inventive initiatives. They bring an infectious sense of possibility to their environment – and that can be a very good thing.

What are high sensation-seekers really like?

Here’s a rundown of some of the typical characteristics of HSSs:

  • A continuous need for novel and diverse experiences that stimulate them 
  • A low boredom threshold
  • Dislike of routines 
  • Doesn't respond well to authority or rules and regulations
  • May not be able to resist impulsive urges
  • A tendency to make unusual choices that may frighten those around them

Is an HSS personality simply an adrenaline junkie by another name? 

No. An adrenaline junkie seeks out activities that give them an adrenaline rush, whereas high sensation-seekers look for thrills in all areas of their lives. It’s a compulsive need for sensation. HSS personalities often:

  • Are drawn to high-risk hobbies and sports
  • Build relationships that contain chaotic elements
  • Like music, art and cinema that is daring and stimulating
  • Challenge people by provoking raw and intense emotions
  • Are fast and sometimes reckless drivers, which may be reflected in their history of accidents or speeding tickets
  • Become restless or depressed and even more desperate for exciting experiences if sensation is denied

On the career side, HSS personalities generally choose jobs that feature some element of risk,  induce high levels of stress, or require quick and decisive action. Many high-sensation seekers will forgo routine employment altogether, becoming serial entrepreneurs who crave the excitement and failure potential that comes with trying to build a business from the ground up.

One important distinction between low and high-sensation seekers is that the latter don’t experience risk, danger or stress as unpleasant. They feel challenged by such circumstances and are truly in their element during these moments. When they succeed at their mission, they feel a sense of triumph or elation.

High sensation-seekers and personality tests

You don’t need to take the Sensation Seeking Scale test to confirm your sensibilities. If you’re a high sensation-seeking person, this likely will be reflected in your results on more general personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs typing system or the Enneagram.

In the 16-type system, it is the Artisans who are the highest sensation seekers. The list of Artisans includes all the Sensing-Perceiving (SP) types: ESTPs, ISTPs, ESFPs and ISFPs. Artisans are drawn to novelty and are bored to tears by too much tradition or routine.

In the Enneagram system, Type 7s are the type most likely to be always seeking the novel and the unique, in a way that delivers thrilling and invigorating experiences. These types are compelled to seek out new and electrifying encounters with people, places and activities, and they will quickly become restless if they’re forced to stay on the sidelines while others are out having fun.

That's not to say that all SPs or Enneagram 7s are HSS personalities – far from it. But if you identify with the traits and behaviors we’ve described here, it may be time to do a deeper dive into the subcategory level of your personality report to spot the telltale indicators of high sensation-seeking thinking and behavior.

For example, under the Sensing category of your TypeFinder report you’ll encounter the subcategories of Habitual vs. Adventurous and Progressive vs. Traditional. In most cases, people who identify as Sensors will strongly favor the Traditional and Habitual paths, and a typical report could rate them as something like 70 percent to 30 percent more Habitual than Adventurous and Traditional than Progressive.  

But if you’re a high sensation-seeker, you likely test as much more Adventurous and Progressive, despite carrying an overall Sensing orientation. High sensation-seekers abhor the safe approach and try to avoid the path already taken.

When you analyze your TypeFinder results in the subcategories for Judging vs. Perceiving, your high sensation-seeking qualities will stand out even more. Here, your test results will be used to identify your preferences for Relaxed vs. Orderly, Spontaneous vs. Scheduled, and Impulsive vs. Disciplined behaviors. If you’re a high sensation seeker you could see some overwhelming numbers pointing in the obvious directions, with ratings like 80-90 percent versus 10-20 percent in favor of Relaxed, Spontaneous and Impulsive.

If indeed you are a high sensation-seeking person, you won’t be able to hide it from the TypeFinder.

The high sensation-seeker’s challenge: To live for the moment, but wisely

When you choose to live according to your most authentic desires and inspirations, your sensation-seeking characteristics will put you on a clearly defined life path. Your personality could take you to some amazing places, or could lead you into deep trouble if you don’t temper your enthusiasm for life and new experiences with wisdom and judgment.

You’ll need to develop your self-awareness and learn from your mistakes. You also shouldn’t leave any lingering personal or psychological issues unacknowledged and unaddressed. If you take these important steps to make sure you’re healthy and whole, your spontaneous, adventurous and fun-loving spirit could emerge as your most valuable and trustworthy asset.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.