Friends, Porn, and Punk: Sensation Seeking in Personal Relationships, Internet Activities, and Music Preference among College Students

By Weisskirch, Robert S.; Murphy, Laurel C. | Adolescence, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Friends, Porn, and Punk: Sensation Seeking in Personal Relationships, Internet Activities, and Music Preference among College Students


Weisskirch, Robert S., Murphy, Laurel C., Adolescence


Individuals may differ radically from one another in their need for excitement. These differences in levels of desired stimulation or arousal involve a personality trait known as sensation seeking. Zuckerman (1994) has defined sensation seeking as "the seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experience" (p. 27). Sensation seeking includes risk-taking, which typically satisfies the high sensation seeking individual's desire for novel and intense experiences (Arnett, 1996; Jessor, 1992). For example, to the high sensation seeker, substance use leads to novel mind states, and skydiving renders intense arousal. Sensation seeking generally peaks in adolescence and diminishes in adulthood (Arnett, 1992; Zuckerman, 1994).

This personality trait manifests itself in a variety of risky behaviors. Risk appraisal is lower for the high sensation seeker, even if the individual has had no previous experience with a potentially detrimental activity (Horvath & Zuckerman, 1993; Zuckerman, 1979, as cited in Zuckerman & Kuhlman, 2000). A high sensation seeker might choose to use alcohol or marijuana despite possible addiction, overdose, and legal, social, and school-related problems (Zuckerman & Kuhlman, 2000). High sensation seekers engage in more risky sexual behaviors, characterized by a greater number of sexual partners and less frequent use of condoms (Zuckerman, 1994). Sensation seeking relates to both extraversion, specifically impulsivity and sociability, and psychoticism, as illustrated by hypomanic tendencies in high sensation seekers and phobic tendencies and schizophrenia in low sensation seekers (Zuckerman, 1994). The degree to which risky behaviors are exhibited depends on the interaction of environmental factors, particularly socialization, and predisposing genetic factors (Arnett, 1992).

Social context influences participation in risky behaviors (Comeau, Stewart, & Loba, 2001). Arnett (1992) has noted that adolescents are attracted to friends with similar levels of sensation seeking. In these friendships, high sensation seekers can reaffirm their negative worldviews with one another (Breivik, 1996). Because risky behaviors are hardly ever committed alone, participation strengthens camaraderie and reinforces friendships (Arnett, 1992). When family or community does not tolerate a particular risky behavior, friends serve as antisocialization partners, supporting the behavior (Arnett, 1992).

Self-disclosure is one of the most important components of intimacy in personal relationships (Franken, Gibson, & Mohan, 1990). High sensation seekers participate in more self-disclosure in casual and close friendships than low sensation seekers (Zuckerman, 1994). Low sensation seekers might be expected to disclose to fewer people in order to fulfill their need for intimacy, while high sensation seekers are expected to have more friends, especially casual friends (Franken, Gibson, & Mohan, 1990). Thus, sensation seeking affects the choice of friends and the level of intimacy within the friendship group.

Arnett (1995) has asserted that adolescents also use media as a means of socialization, particularly in regard to sensation seeking. Further, high sensation seekers use media to provide the stimulation that they desire. For example, Perse (1996) has reported that high sensation seekers watch action/adventure television shows more than other genres.

The socializing potential of the Internet, a relatively new form of media, is enormous. With its expanding connectivity and interactivity, the Internet can increasingly shape development during adolescence, a time of greater sensation seeking. The Internet provides opportunities for high arousal and stimulation, such as chat rooms, music, gambling, interactive video games, and streaming video (even real-time sexual shows). …

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