Ever wondered what draws some people to daredevil behavior while others shy away from it? Well, the answer lies in the brain.
An international team of researchers went out to test how the brains of sensation-seekers differ from those who avoid risky behavior.
During the study, psychologists Jane E. Joseph, Xun Liu, Yang Jiang and Thomas H. Kelly from the University of Kentucky, along with Donald Lyman of Purdue University recruited two sets of volunteers: high sensation seekers or low sensation seekers.
The participants were shown a variety of photographs ranging from mundane scenes (for example, cows and food) to very emotional and arousing images, such as erotic scenes and violent pictures.
Their brains scanned with the help of functional MRI (fMRI).
The brain images showed that when high sensation seekers viewed the arousing photographs, there was increased activity in the brain region known as the insula.
Insula has previously been linked to addictive behaviors, such as craving cigarettes.
However, when low sensation seekers looked at arousing photographs, there was increased activity in the frontal cortex area of the brain. The researchers note that this was an interesting finding because that region is important for controlling emotions.
The researchers found that high sensation seekers respond very strongly to arousing cues, but have less activity in brain areas associated with emotional regulation.
The authors note that their findings may indicate the way by which sensation seeking results in negative behaviors, including substance abuse and antisocial behavior.
"Individuals high in sensation seeking not only are strongly activated by exciting, thrilling and potentially dangerous activities, but also may be less likely than other people to inhibit or appropriately regulate that activation," they said.
The results appear in 'Psychological Science', a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.