Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Novelty seeking

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Novelty seeking:
What motivates novelty seeking?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Skydiving experience an example of novelty seeking.

If you feel as though you prosper in conditions that might seem chaotic, or make spur of the moment decisions, like a 4 hour road trip just to get ice cream, or that you are frequently under stimulated and easily bored, chances are you fit the personality trait of a novelty seeker.

Novelty seeking (NS) is described as a temperamental trait which is associated with high impulsivity, exploratory behaviour, and is also extravagant and disorderly while also being closely related to emotionality and sensation seeking (Foulds, Boden, Newton-Howes, Mulder, & Horood, 2017).

The purpose of this chapter is to assist people in the understanding of what novelty seeking is and what motivates people to seek this out. The chapter will discuss the features of novelty seeking, the theoretical framework surrounding novelty seeking and also the positive and negative affects[grammar?] of novelty seeking.

People may seek novelty in ways such as:

  • Skydiving as seen in Figure 1.
  • Spontaneous exploration

While these may seem like intentional and harmless ways to seek novelty there are also ways that can be detrimental to a person's health and unintentional. These include:

  • Impulsive buying for example plane tickets or booking a holiday
  • quick loss of temper

Focus questions:

  1. What is novelty seeking?
  2. What theories and research assist in understanding novelty seeking?
  3. How do we measure novelty seeking?
  4. Does the brain play a central role in novelty seeking?
  5. How does novelty seeking effect criminal behaviour?
"We only know a tiny proportion about the complexity of the natural world. Wherever you look, there are still things we don't know about and don't understand. There are always new things to find out if you go looking for them" David Attenborough (

What is novelty seeking?[edit | edit source]

Novelty seeking (NS) is a personality trait mirroring excitement in response to novel stimuli with high levels of NS usually a antecedent of risk taking behaviours (Wang et al., 2015). NS is considered to be moderately heritable,whilst being situationally stable (Evern et al. 2017). Evern and colleagues (2017) acknowledge that an individual with high NS could be described as any of the following:

  1. Quick tempered
  2. Excitable
  3. Exploratory
  4. Curious
  5. Enthusiastic
  6. Ardent
  7. Easily bored
  8. Impulsive and disorderly

Measures of NS[edit | edit source]

There are many ways in which NS has been measured over the years. This section will delve into the checklists, models and inventory that best measure NS.

Symptom Checklist-Revised (SCL-90-R)[edit | edit source]

  • The SCL-90-R is a self report used to assess psychopathological symptoms. Consisting of 90 items rated with a 5-point likert scale, one being no problem and five being very serious to assess the extent in which individuals have experienced the listed symptoms in the last seven days

Cloningers[grammar?] Temperament and Character Models[edit | edit source]

  • Cloninger proposed a psychobiological theory, including four dimensions of temperament and three dimensions of character. Initially, the model included only three temperament dimension, NS, Harm Avoidance (HA) and Reward Dependence (RD). The temperament dimensions were assumed to be independently heritable and to manifest early in development. These dimensions were defined in terms of individual differences in behavioural learning mechanisms explaining responses to novelty, danger or punishment and cues for reward (NS), avoiding aversive stimuli (HA and reactions to reward (RD). The Tri-Dimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) was developed to measure this (Fruyt, Van De Wiele & Van Heeringen, 2000).

Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI)[edit | edit source]

  • Research into the TPQ revealed that within the RD sub-scale, persistence proved to be independent of the three temperament factors and therefore proposed as an additional fourth temperament. In order to more adequately represent individual differences, the four dimensional model was extended to a seven dimensional scheme, including three dimensions of character: Self-directedness (SD), Cooperativeness (CO) and Self-transcendence (ST). This model would be referred to as the Temperament and Character Inventory, which is a more precise and complete version of the TPQ for assessing temperament and character (Basiaux et al. 2001).
  • Within the TCI, Cloninger describes individuals high in NS as impulsive, quick tempered whenever frustrated, and prone to break the rules and regulations in order to pursue what they think will give them pleasure or thrills and those low in NS as reflective and law abiding. Descriptors of individuals who score high and low on the four temperament dimensions including NS are outlined in Table 1. Each of these explained traits, has a varying number of sub-scales. The dimensions are determined from a 240-item questionnaire (Cloninger, Svrakic & Pryzbeck, 1998).

Temperament and Character Inventory Revised (TCI-R)[edit | edit source]

  • This was the last psychometric instrument developed by Cloninger and colleagues, revising the TCI. In this revised version, a 5-point likert response was incorporated, and the persistence short scales were converted into a dimension with an additional new sub-scale for RD. Both versions had 240-items, but the TCI-R preserved 189 of the original TCI, 37 items were eliminated, 51 new items incorporated including five validity items ( Aluga, Blanch, Gallart & Dolcet, 2010).
Table 1. Descriptors of individuals who score high and low on the four temperament dimensions of the TCI
Temperament Dimension Descriptors of Extreme High Variants Low
Harm Avoidance Pessimistic








Novelty Seeking Exploratory








Reward Dependence Sentimental








Persistence Industrious









NS is affected by both genetic and environmental factors, and can be measured in humans through questionnaires and in rodents using behavioural tasks. Both human and rodent studies demonstrate that high NS can predict the initiation of drug use and a transition to compulsive drug use and relapse. Wingo and colleagues look into the link between behavioural and molecular connections between novelty seeking and drug addiction (Wingo et al. 2016).

Theoretical frameworks[edit | edit source]

There are many theoretical frameworks surrounding novelty seeking. Below we delve into the main models and theories.

The brain[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. The brain plays a central role in a persons[grammar?] novelty seeking motivation.
  • A main characteristic of discovering something new and being creative is the ability to think in ways that are different from established ways of thought (Schweizer, 2006).
  • High novelty seeking individuals and above average novelty finders are identified by a particular set of neurocognitive traits and styles of thinking (Schweizer, 2006).
  • Novelty seeking behaviour is related to individual differences in specific neurotransmitter activity in the brain[explain?]. It has also been argued that the novelty seeking personality is modulated by the transmission of the neurotransmitter dopamine (Schweizer, 2006).
  • While using EEG recordings and a greyscale taskPictogram voting comment.svg Explain - not mentioned in measurement, Tomer found that high NS participants showed a consistent attentional bias that favoured the right sided greyscale stimuli, while the low NS participants showed a bias to the left, suggesting hemispheric dopamine asymmetry and asymmetry in the novelty seeking behavioural approach. Participants with a higher NS personality score have shown an elevated blood oxygen dependent signal in the medical prefrontal cortex (mPFC) during emotional compared with neutral expectancy (Li et al. 2017).
  • Thirty-four neurologically and psychiatrically healthy adult participants completed a study for Zald et al (2008) completing the TPQ. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain were performed alongside Positron emission tomography (PET) to assess the differences in extracellular dopamine (DA) and effects of NS in humans. Data found indicated that the NS is associated with reduced D2- like receptors availability in the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area. Because midbrain D2-like receptors are dominated by somatodentric auto-receptors,[grammar?] these results suggest a specific inverse relationship between NS traits and auto-receptor availability. The correlation between NS personality traits and autoreceptor functioning may contribute to the increased addiction vulnerability of high NS (Zald et al. 2008).

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

  • Self determination theory, constructed by Deci and Ryan, is currently one of the most important motivational theories in social psychology, given considerable evidence of its capacity to predict human behaviour in multiple behavioural contexts (Gonzalez-Cutre et al. 2016)..
  • A key driver of motivation set out in self-determination theory is satisfaction of three basic, psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness (Gonzalez-Cutre et al. 2016).
  • Gonzalez-Cutre et al. (2016) put forward the notion that the need for novelty should be added as an additional basic need alongside the needs proposed.
  • See the proposed addition of novelty seeking to be added to self determination theory here.
Figure 3. Self-determination theory chart

Contemporary approaches to the study of novelty[edit | edit source]

  • Sensation seeking - Zuckerman initially described as the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experiences (Gonzalez-Cutre et al. 2016).
  • Arnett then defines sensation seeking as the need for novelty of stimulation, giving a greater emphasis to the role of socialisation and not viewing sensation seeking as a potential for taking risks but more as a general experience present in multiple peoples lives (Gonzalez-Cutre et al. 2016)

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Which is not a descriptor of extreme high novelty seeking?


2 Which of the following was not a dimension of the TPQ?

Harm Avoidance
Self Transcendence
Novelty Seeking
Reward Dependence

Genetic factors[edit | edit source]

  • NS as a predisposing personality trait has been validated in animal models of multiple drugs of abuse and reflects a heritable tendency toward exploratory behaviour and desire for novel sensations (Wingo, Nesil, Choi & Ming, 2015).
  • In twin and adoption studies suggest that 30-60% of variance in several personality traits is caused by inherited factors, however there is little knowledge on the number or identity of responsible genes, or how they differ between individuals or interact with developing factors to develop attitudes and actions that create a persons temperament (Benjamin et al. 1996).
  • A population association found by Ebstein et al. between a long allele of polymorphic exon III repeat sequence of the D4 dopamine receptor gene (D4DR) and the normal personality trait of novelty seeking[explain?].
  • Possibility of a causal relationship further supported by studies undertaken by Benjamin and colleagues (Benjamin et al. 1996)[explain?].
  • In a univariate analysis of 478 heroin dependent subjects, gene variants were independently associated with both NS and age of onset of drug use: those with the TT genotype had higher NS sub-scale scores and an earlier onset age than individuals with CT or CC genotypes (Li et al. 2011)[explain?].

Crime and novelty seeking[edit | edit source]

  • As seen above, Cloninger proposed models for assessing personality in a continuous tridimensional space. He hypothesised that the extreme variants of hereditary temperament traits predispose to clinical personality disorders. Cloninger also proposed that antisocial personality disorder diagnosis (ASPD) typically would feature high novelty seeking, low harm avoidance and low reward dependence. ASPD is a frequent diagnosis among the prison populations indicating that novelty seeking and crime may have a strong link (Tikkanen, Holi, Lindberg & Virkkunen, 2007).
  • In a study by Tikkanen and colleagues, it was aimed to test Cloninger's hypothesis and its connection to severe violence. Participants comprised of 198 male violent offenders recruited from court ordered, two month in patient mental examinations. The violent offences were generally serious, impulsive and committed under the influence of alcohol.
  • Controls were 170 healthy age and gender matched volunteers recruited through newspaper advertisements, undergoing the same TPD and Diagnostic Statistical Manual evaluation as the offenders.
  • Results suggested that the typical violent offender temperament profile comprised high NS, High HA and low RD.
  • In line with Cloningers[grammar?] hypothesis, it was also found that trait NS was higher in ASPD than in non ASPD offenders. Similar results have emerged for substance users and psychiatric patients with cluster B disorders.
  • ASPD offenders showed particularly high impulsiveness and disorderliness, subscales of NS (Tikkanen, Holi, Lindberb & Virkkunen, 2007).

Linking drug seeking behaviour and biological mechanisms[edit | edit source]

  • There is considerable evidence that high novelty seekers are at increased risk for using drugs of abuse relative to low novelty seekers. A review by Bardo and colleagues examines the potential biological mechanisms that may help explain the link between NS and drug seeking behaviours (Bardo, Donohew & Harrington, 1995).
  • The mesolimbic DA system is generally thought to be a critical component of the neural circuitry mediating drug reward. Evidence for the involvement of this neural system in drug reward is strongest for the psycho-stimulant and opiate drug classes, but some evidence also indicates that the mesolimbic DA system may also mediate, at least in part, the rewarding effects of sedative-hypnotics and hallucinogens(Bardo, Donohew & Harrington, 1995).
  • Experimental evidence supporting a critical role of the mesolimbic DA system in mediating the rewarding effects of drugs of abuse has been derived from three major types of studies using animals 1. antagonist drug studies 2. lesioning studies 3. microdialysis studies.
  • In general these studies have found that rewarding effects of psycho-stimulant drugs such as amphetamine and cocaine is most dependent upon the mesolimbic DA system, while the rewarding effect of opiate drugs appears to be partially depending upon this brain substrate (Bardo, Donohew & Harrington, 1995).
  • An important point to be drawn from evolutionary theory is that NS behaviour when viewed as a phenotypic trait, varies in expression across different individuals within a given species. Individuals who are high NS may possess some advantage over low NS in locating new source of food or potential sources of danger, particularly during times of limited resources (Bardo, Donohew & Harrington, 1995).
  • However it should be recognised that unbridled NS may be disadvantageous in situations where behavioural inhibition is needed to avoid predatory or dangerous events (Bardo, Donohew & Harrington, 1995).
  • One potential mechanism that has been offered to explain the relationship between response to inescapable novelty and response to drugs of abuse involves individual differences in the adrenocorticosterone stress axis. Corticosterone levels have been shown to modulate the effect of psycho-stimulate drugs (Bardo, Donohew & Harrington, 1995).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

  1. The potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards and the brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. Only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.
  2. It is important to acknowledge that NS can be a very positive thing, but also can have detrimental effects.
  3. NS is motivated by the environment and genetics
  4. Crime and NS have very strong links again, this could be due to the reward dependence, particularly drug seeking behaviour

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aluja, A., Blanch, A., Gallart, S., & Dolcet, J. M. (2010). The Temperament and Character Inventory Revised (TCI-R): Descriptive and factor structure in different age levels. Psicologia Conductual, 18(2), 385

Bardo, M. T., Donohew, R. L., & Harrington, N. G. (1996). Psychobiology of novelty seeking and drug seeking behaviour. Behavioural brain research, 77(1-2), 23-43.

Benjamin, J., Li, L., Patterson, C., Greenberg, B. D., Murphy, D. L., & Hamer, D. L. (1996). Population and familial association between the D4 dopamine receptor gene and measures of novelty seeking. Nature genetics, 12(1), 81.

Cloninger, C. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Przybeck, T. R. (1998). A psychobiological model of temperament and character. The development of psychiatry and its complexity, 50(12), 1-16

De Fruyt, F., Van De Wiele, L., & Van Heering, C. (2000). Cloninger's psychobiological model of temperament and character and the five-factor model of personality. Personality and individual differences, 29(3),441-452.

Evren, C., Alniak, I., V., Cetin, T., Umit, G., Agachanli, R., & Evern, B. (2018) Relationship of probable ADHD with novelty seeking, severity of psychopathology and borderline personality disorder in a sample of patients with opioid use disorder. Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 28(1), 48-55.

Foulds, J. A., Boden, J. M., Newton-Howes, G. M., Mulder, R. T., & Horood, L. J. (2017). The role of novelty seeking as a predictor of substance use disorder outcomes in early adulthood. Addiction,112(9), 1629-1637.

Gonzalez-Cutre, D., Sicilia, A., Sierra. C., Ferriz, R., & Hagger, M. S. (2016) Understanding the need for novelty from a perspective of self-determination theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 102, 159-169

Li, S., Demenescu, L. R., Sweeney-Reed, C. M., Krause, A. L., Metzger, C. D., & Walter, M. (2017). Novelty seeking and reward dependence-related large-scale brain networks functional connectivity variation during salience expectancy. Human brain mapping, 38(3), 4046-4077.

Li, T., Yu, S., Du, J., Chen, H., Jiang, H., Xu, K., ... & Zhao, M. (2011). Role of novelty seeking personality traits as mediator of the association between COMT and onset age of drug use in Chinese heroin dependent patients. PloS one, 6(8), e22923

Schweizer, T. S. (2006). The psychology of novelty seeking, creativity and innovation: neurocognitive aspects within a work-psychological perspective. Creativity and Innovation Management, 15(2), 164-172.

Tikkanen, R., Holi, M., Lindberg, N., & Virkkunen, M. (2007). Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire data on alcoholic violent offenders: specific connections to severe impulsive cluster B personality disorders and violent criminality. BMC psychiatry, 7(1), 36.

Wang, Y., Liu, Y., Yang., Gu., F., Li, X., Zha, R, ... & Zhang, X. (2015). Novelty seeking is related to individual risk preference and brain associated with risk prediction during decision making. Scientific reports, 5, 10534.

Wingo, T., Nesil,. T., Choi, J. S., & Li, M. D. (2016). Novelty seeking and drug addiction in humans and animals: from behaviour to molecules. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 11(3), 456-470.

Zald, D. H., Cowan, R. L., Riccardi, P., Baldwin, R. M., Anasari, M. S., Li, R., .. & Kessler, R. M. (2008). Midbrain dopamine receptor availability is inversely associated with novelty-seeking traits in humans. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(53), 14372-14378.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Take this quiz [1] to find out if you are a novelty seeker! (blogthings)
  • Best selling author and renowned neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel explains how adolescence remodel the brain, increasing their willingness to take risks and seek out new things. Check it out here [2] (Youtube)
  • Look into the Case Study mentioned above on the behavioural and molecular connection between novelty seeking and drug addiction (NCBI)