Sensation-Seeking Over the Lifetime

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

In her recent comment, Sandy Alonzo raised the question about the relevance of age in the sensation-seeker personality. She wondered whether the mudder’s youth would explain his willingness to engage in activities that have ecologically destructive outcomes, without considering the negative effects on the environment.

It probably will come as no surprise to learn that, in this personality type, sensation-seeking activities tend to escalate around the onset of puberty, peak in the mid-teens, and, with the leveling off of hormones, wane in intensity by the late twenties. Also not surprisingly, the need in sensation-seekers for external stimulation declines significantly over the lifespan.

I couldn’t find any specific information about whether the young mudder might become more ecologically responsible as he ages; another question raised by Alonzo.

Reason tells us that sensation-seekers, like most people, will develop a perspective about themselves and about their place in society as they experience life. In the process of maturing, they would most likely become more knowledgeable about the world around them and more reflective about how to take part in the world they had come to know.

This seems to presume that awareness and experience would contribute to an increase in environmentally responsible behavior, and that it would happen voluntarily and spontaneously as a consequence of maturation.

Ecologist and forester, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), might have argued against that supposition. He might have proposed that, without valuing land and all its soils, waters, plants, and animals for their own sake and not for the fun and excitement they offer; and that, without a knowledge base in ecology and an appreciation for the connection between human health and safety and the health of the planet, those sensation-seekers who pursue their sport in nature are vulnerable to misusing the land and inadvertently creating collateral ecological damage.

In his essay, The Land Ethic, published in 1949 as part of his book A Sand County Almanac, Leopold wrote, We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Leopold proposed that ethics imposes a limitation on freedom of action in the service of a higher cause.

If the sensation-seeker cannot develop a land-oriented ethic based on ecologically sound principles, one that  obligates him to correct use and care of the environment, behaviors required for protecting the environment would come into conflict with his need to achieve excitement and stimulation.

The young mudder will be particularly susceptible to choosing pleasure over prudence if he lacks a value system that holds protecting the land to a higher standard than fun and excitement. His genetic makeup and his age would almost dictate that he drive his vehicle into a forest meadow and bear down in pursuit of his coveted mud, leaving destruction behind. Out of sight, out of mind.

The mature sensation-seeker, therefore, is in the best position to steer the young towards ecologically responsible behavior. He can become a mentor and role model for youth through a land-based code of ethics which reflects ecological principles and which can work side by side with an ethical code for the sport.


One thought on “Sensation-Seeking Over the Lifetime”

  1. I am truly wondering if a person who has stimulated that part of their brain “Sensation seeker” can do without that “rush” of doing something that is wrong (thrill), doing something a bit dangerous (thrill), attention grabbing because your car is covered in mud (thrill). I would love to know that there are persons out there that were able to overcome this kind of behavior.

    Mentorship and finding a new thrill sport may be the answer. Even procrastination is a thrill sport, where people wait to the very last second and then the adrenaline rush of trying to get it done, gets it done. It is that “rush” feeling they seek.

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