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Is Thrill Seeking Hard-Wired?

Is Thrill Seeking Hard-Wired?A new study leads scientists to believe the urge to do exciting things is linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that helps transmit messages in your brain.

Researchers analyzed genes in the dopamine system and found a group of mutations that help predict whether someone is inclined toward sensation seeking.

Sensation seeking has been linked to a range of behavior disorders, such as drug addiction. It isn’t all bad, though.

“Not everyone who’s high on sensation seeking becomes a drug addict. They may become an Army Ranger or an artist. It’s all in how you channel it,” says Jaime Derringer, the first author of the study.

She wanted to use a new technique to find out more about the genetics of sensation seeking. Most obvious connections with genes, like the BRCA gene that increases the risk for breast cancer, have already been found, Derringer says.

Now new methods are letting scientists look for more subtle associations between genes and all kinds of traits, including behavior and personality.

Derringer used a kind of mutation in DNA called a single-nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP. A SNP is a change in just one “letter” of the DNA. She started by picking eight genes with various roles related to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has been linked to sensation seeking in other studies.

She looked at group of 635 people who were part of a study on addiction. For each one, she had genetic information on 273 SNPs known to appear in those 8 genes and a score for how much they were inclined to sensation seeking.

Using that data, she was able to narrow down the 273 SNPs to 12 potentially important ones. When she combined these 12 SNPs, they explained just under 4 percent of the difference between people in sensation seeking. This may not seem like a lot, but it’s “quite large for a genetic study,” Derringer says.

It’s too soon to go out and start screening people for these mutations; not enough is known about how genes affect behavior.

“One of the things we think is most exciting about this isn’t necessarily the story about dopamine and sensation seeking,” says Derringer.

“It’s rather the method that we’re using. We used a sample of 635 people, which is extremely small, and we were still able to detect a significant effect. That’s actually quite rare in these studies.”

She said the same method could be used to look at the link between biology and other behaviors—dopamine and cocaine dependence, for example, or serotonin and depression.

Eventually these methods could lead to tests that might help predict whether someone is likely to have problems later, and whether there should be early intervention to guide them down a healthier path.

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Is Thrill Seeking Hard-Wired?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Is Thrill Seeking Hard-Wired?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/10/06/is-thrill-seeking-hard-wired/19245.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.