Thrill Seekers Lack Brakes In The Brain

  by  |  March 11th, 2009  |  Published in All, Brain & Psychology, Featured

 |  Stumble |  Share on Facebook |  Tweet This | 

New research gives a possible explanation for why some of us are thrill seekers and others like to play it safe. The study found that some of us can’t control the release of a certain brain chemical.

[If you cannot see the flash video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]

Interviewee: David Zald, Vanderbilt University
Produced by Sunita Reed- Edited by Sunita
Reed and Chris Bergendorff Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc

"Adrenaline Junkies" Actually Prefer Dopamine

Wouldn’t it be amazing if researchers could scan our brains and see whether we have thrill seeking personality traits? Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald has come pretty close. He has conducted a study that links thrill seeking behavior with a difference in specific part of the dopamine system in the brain.

“Dopamine does a number of different things. Probably most importantly though it’s involved in motivation and reward,” explains Zald. “And it’s the critical chemical in terms of people really wanting to do things.”

Brain scans of a low thrillseeker (left) and high thrill seeker (right) show differences in the autoreceptor concentration. Image courtesy: David Zald

Specific brain cells, or neurons, make and release dopamine. When dopamine is released its target is specific dopamine receptors on other brain cells in the pleasure centers of the brain. There have been some studies of these receptors in people. But Zald wanted to look at a different structure on the dopamine releasing brain cells themselves, called autoreceptors, which function as brakes to stop the release of dopamine.

Zald knew that studies in rodents showed that those with reduced brakes were more likely to explore in novel environments but were also more likely to self-administer cocaine or amphetamines. He also knew there was some limited evidence that individual differences in dopamine functioning was linked to novelty seeking.

He and his colleagues asked 34 healthy male and female volunteers to fill out a questionnaire that measures a person’s tendency for novelty seeking.

“The scale that we used measured things like how much the person wants to try new things, how free they are in terms of spending money, and the person’s willingness to be spontaneous or even break rules,” Zald explains.

Then his team scanned the brains of the volunteers using PET scanners. They measured the number of autoreceptors, the structures that act like brakes on dopamine release. As they wrote in the “Journal of Neuroscience” low thrill seekers had many brakes while high thrill seekers had very few. In the brain scans in the image above comparing a low and high thrill seeker, the white arrows point to the autoreceptors, which show up as bright blue.

“What we think that means is people who really don’t have the brakes on their dopamine system, they’re really going to release more dopamine and have more of the rewarding effects of dopamine,” says Zald.

Also on ScienCentral

Zald says that there are positive and negative aspects to the novelty seeking personality trait.

“Thrill seeking is one of the things that leads people to explore new things, to discover new things,” says Zald. “The world would be a boring place if we didn’t have people who were willing to take the risks because they were so interested or drawn to the new and exciting.”

But people with the novelty seeking trait are also at a higher risk of doing drugs. Zald wants to do further studies to find out why some people take such deadly risks and others find ways to balance their need for excitement in healthier ways.

And Zald has a word of advice for parents: “For a child who is a thrill seeker, what you really want to do is direct them into activities which will give them those thrills. For instance having them learn to do rock climbing would be a good example. And if they can get those thrills through something where they maintain a reasonable level of safety, that may be a draw that is enough for them so they never feel the need or desire to start experimenting with drugs.”

Publication: Journal of Neuroscience
Authors: David H. Zald, Ronald L. Cowan, Patrizia Riccardi, Ronald M. Baldwin, M. Sib Ansari, Rui Li, Evan S. Shelby, Clarence E. Smith, Maureen McHugo, and Robert M. Kessler
Research funded by: National Institute of Drug Abuse

Elsewhere on the Web:

How Stuff Works: How Your Brain Works

The Science Behind Drug Abuse

 |  Stumble |  Share on Facebook |  Tweet This | 


  1. Jim Ryan says:

    March 11th, 2009 at 8:29 pm (#)

    Not true, it’s just that in order to gain more, we must go to the outer edges or nothing new presents itself.

  2. Jim Ryan says:

    March 11th, 2009 at 8:32 pm (#)

    In order for our supercomputer to work, we must push it to the limits every single day and nothing else works, but the truth and the proof. Maybe you’d like some proof?

  3. Anonymous says:

    March 12th, 2009 at 2:51 am (#)

    Mom Blogs - Blogs for Moms…

  4. Emergent Culture - The Delusions, the Deluders and “the Truth” says:

    March 18th, 2009 at 1:15 am (#)

    [...] Thrill Seekers Lack Brakes In The Brain New research gives a possible explanation for why some of us are thrill seekers and others like to play it safe. The study found that some of us can’t control the release of a certain brain chemical. [...]

  5. Thrill seekers lack brakes in the brain « The Brain Blog says:

    July 26th, 2009 at 12:37 pm (#)

    [...] Source: ScienCentral [...]

  6. Adventurer Intelligence Criteria « The Adventurer Intelligence says:

    April 19th, 2010 at 3:32 pm (#)

    [...] This link provides more information and a video explaining the research on dopamine production and i… [...]

  7. .50 Caliber William Tell | Booty Call U says:

    November 4th, 2010 at 12:20 pm (#)

    [...] was recently learned that certain human beings are actually genetically predisposed to seek thrill. Research has shown that their brains propensity for the effects of dopamine is much higher, which [...]

  8. Confessions of a Surf Addict | says:

    February 14th, 2011 at 12:39 am (#)

    [...] those of drug users, including the experience of withdrawal symptoms. Studies also indicate that thrill-seekers and risk-takers may lack “brakes”, auto-receptors in their brain cells that limit dopamine, and thus will feel its pleasurable [...]

  9. Rocco Gottlieb says:

    May 20th, 2011 at 5:51 pm (#)

    I’ve read some of the content articles in your site now, and I absolutely like your style of website. I included it to my favorites web site directory and needs to be coming back quickly. Bear in mind to check out my web site too and inform me what you think.

  10. Rob Mac says:

    June 18th, 2011 at 6:44 pm (#)

    “Thrill Seekers” not only run far higher chances of drug addiction, they are far more likely to be criminals, sexually promiscuous, gamblers & psychopaths! I met a woman who was all those things, who, over 9 years weaved a web of deceit & permanently destroyed my life. I was a professional creative artist, but “thrill seekers” aren’t just people who like a roller coaster at an amusement park.

  11. leather learning says:

    November 29th, 2011 at 6:57 am (#)

    We just included you to my blogroll, come have a look at my web site and see what you think! wing wine little

  12. ConsultingCryptanalyst says:

    March 21st, 2012 at 9:49 pm (#)

    I find this study fascinating as a definite thrill-seeking personality myself, and because I take amphetamine-based stimulant medication (as prescribed by a psychiatrist) to help control my ADHD symptoms. Others I know who have ADHD also tend to express that they too thrill-seek, and that it seems to be a common correlation in their experience with others with ADHD too. I have a family history of thrill-seeking behaviors and of drug abuse, so I know that I cannot experiment as others may be able to semi-safely do, but I find other ways of getting the thrills I crave, without drugs. Drug abuse, however, isn’t the only negative result of thrill-seeking, and all types of negative behaviors that result from thrill-seeking should be studied, I think. For example, I know people who get their kicks by getting themselves into dodgy situations and then try to talk their way/get out of them: that’ clearly is not good either, and there are many more examples of possibly dangerous methods of thrill-seeking besides drugs which should be warned against, as sometimes it may not be entirely apparent to a thrill-seeker that what they’re doing is thrill-seeking and potentially dangerous.

  13. Christine Cassel says:

    April 25th, 2012 at 3:28 pm (#)

    Wow, this is me, how can i get tested? if there medication that can help teens or adults?

  14. Bhawk says:

    January 17th, 2013 at 7:45 pm (#)

    Christine there is a test on the bbc’s website for sensation seekers. I found it on the Confessions of a surf addict link that is on the comment above, I an definitely a sensation seeker and scored 37 of 40, seems pretty accurate.

  15. DIYsolarfreeelectricit says:

    March 15th, 2013 at 11:22 am (#)

    Why users still make use of to read news papers when in this technological globe everything is accessible on net?| DIY solar free electricity

  16. tickets air flight says:

    March 22nd, 2013 at 3:35 pm (#)

    Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.| tickets air flight

  17. papaka says:

    March 22nd, 2013 at 4:31 pm (#)

    What i do not realize is actually how you’re now not actually a lot more neatly-appreciated than you might be now. You are very intelligent. You realize thus significantly when it comes to this matter, produced me in my view consider it from so many varied angles. Its like women and men aren’t interested except it is one thing to accomplish with Woman gaga! Your personal stuffs nice. All the time maintain it up!| papaka

  18. Oil and gas logistics says:

    March 23rd, 2013 at 8:47 am (#)

    Thank you for another wonderful article. The place else may anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal method of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the search for such info.| Oil and gas logistics

  19. pure garcinia cambogia says:

    March 23rd, 2013 at 9:01 am (#)

    Superb, what a website it is! This website provides valuable information to us, keep it up.| pure garcinia cambogia

  20. hochzeitsfotosMünchenw says:

    March 23rd, 2013 at 10:06 am (#)

    Thanks designed for sharing such a fastidious opinion, post is fastidious, thats why i have read it fully| hochzeitsfotos München wedding photos munich

  21. Experience Desire says:

    May 10th, 2013 at 6:52 pm (#)

    What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity on the topic of unpredicted feelings.

  22. buy idol lip says:

    June 17th, 2013 at 5:23 pm (#)

    Simply wish to say your article is as surprising.

    The clarity in your post is just great and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

  23. Mighty Raspberry Ketone says:

    December 13th, 2013 at 5:51 pm (#)

    Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to assert that I
    acquire in fact enjoyed account your blog posts.

    Anyway I will be subscribing to your augment and even I
    achievement you access consistently fast.

  24. hypnosis scripts public speaking says:

    December 15th, 2013 at 4:18 am (#)

    This is my first time pay a visit at here and i am in fact pleassant
    to read everthing at alone place.

  25. says:

    January 22nd, 2014 at 8:56 am (#)

    Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog
    with my myspace group? There’s a lot of foolks that I think wkuld really
    appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thank you

  26. says:

    January 26th, 2014 at 6:12 am (#)

    Ah, the wedding event, it is just one of the most wonderful, and torturous, activities you will ever before experience, it absolutely astonishes me what we humans put ourselves through simply to make that excellent event of passion, the planning of a typical wedding event is extremely challenging.

  27. hypnosis for laughing says:

    February 14th, 2014 at 2:12 am (#)

    When someone writes an paragraph he/she keeps the thought
    of a user in his/her brain that how a user can be aware of it.
    Thus that’s why this piece of writing is perfect.

  28. Darcus says:

    March 19th, 2014 at 4:59 pm (#)

    Quite good post. I just discovered your own web site and wished to declare that We have definitely relished surfing around the weblog articles. In the end My business is opting-in in your feast so i we do hope you produce once more as soon as possible!

  29. Dale says:

    March 30th, 2014 at 6:48 pm (#)

    Hi would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re using?
    I’ve loaded yolur blog in 3 different internet browsers and I must
    say this bloog loads a lot quicker thyen most. Can you recommend a good web hosting provider
    at a honest price? Thanks, I appreciate it!

  30. cuentas de minecraft premium says:

    June 3rd, 2014 at 9:12 am (#)

    One-Leg is shorter compared to the other, here is the bad of the LED.
    I recently started searching for something different to
    engage in, so I decided to give Minecraft Premium Account Generator
    a spin. We’ll move onto some grander design and style schemes
    in the up coming Minecraft Circle post.

  31. church management software says:

    June 12th, 2014 at 3:52 am (#)

    Hi there, of course this post is actually nice and I have learned lot of things from it regarding blogging.

  32. cash out refinance says:

    June 23rd, 2014 at 7:15 pm (#)

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt
    donate to this excellent blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and
    adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward
    to fresh updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

  33. minecraft account says:

    July 16th, 2014 at 12:08 am (#)

    Spot on with this write-up, I absoluely feel this amazing site
    needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read
    through more, thanks for the info!

  34. rozkosze nocy sylvia day says:

    July 30th, 2014 at 4:39 am (#)

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but
    I find this topic tto be really something which I think I would
    never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for
    me. I aam looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the
    hang of it!

  35. chatango says:

    August 3rd, 2014 at 2:41 pm (#)

    Today, while I was at work, my sister stole
    my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she caan be a youtube sensation. My apple
    ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is totally
    off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  36. Click Webpage says:

    August 31st, 2014 at 5:49 pm (#)

    I am several volunteers and starting up a fresh plan within our online community. Your blog available people having very helpful details to operate with. You could have performed your strong pastime plus our own whole local community shall be pleased back. I am several volunteers and starting up a fresh plan within our online community. Your blog available people having very helpful details to operate with. You could have performed your strong pastime plus our own whole local community shall be pleased back.

  37. natural skin care says:

    September 1st, 2014 at 11:34 am (#)

    Wonderful blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?

    I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or
    go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused ..
    Any ideas? Thank you!

    My web blog natural skin care

  38. alfie & molly's dog bakery says:

    September 7th, 2014 at 3:13 am (#)

    Thanks for sharing such a fastidious opinion, post is nice,
    thats why i have read it fully

  39. Jesica P. Efthimiou says:

    September 20th, 2014 at 4:58 pm (#)

    At this time I am ready to do my breakfast, when having
    my breakfast coming over again to read other news.

    my page … Jesica P. Efthimiou

  40. Staci T. Underdue says:

    October 1st, 2014 at 2:56 pm (#)

    Good blog post. I definitely love this site. Keep it up!

  41. Vilma H. Hartsough says:

    October 9th, 2014 at 10:10 pm (#)

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this website.
    I’m hoping to check out the same high-grade content from you
    later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has
    encouraged me to get my own blog now ;)

  42. facial cancer spots says:

    September 3rd, 2016 at 10:58 am (#)

    I’ve been putting on the Cleanser specially for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy treatment.
    That is a healthy organic cosmectic feels very soft and
    gave me the chance to feel better again. It also allowed cancer
    burns feel much better.

  43. Minyak Belacak says:

    October 9th, 2016 at 8:47 am (#)

    Appreciate almost every other insightful web page. The site otherwise may perhaps I receive of which sort of information developed in a real great means? I have a goal that we are basically currently working in, i are already within the be aware of such info Minyak Belacak.

  44. Letter #5 - Flying Blue, Flying with ADHD through Life | Letters to Myself says:

    February 2nd, 2017 at 6:01 pm (#)

    […] is one of the things that leads people to explore new things, to discover new things,” says Zald. “The world would be a boring place if we didn’t have people who were willing to take the risks […]

  45. mlb jersey authentication service says:

    December 8th, 2017 at 10:28 am (#)

    I don’t even understand how I ended up right here, but I believed this submit was good. I don’t realize who you’re however certainly you are going to a well-known blogger for those who are not already ;) Cheers!

  46. home based business opportunities says:

    April 3rd, 2018 at 1:13 pm (#)

    Awesome post.

  47. home based business opportunities says:

    May 4th, 2018 at 5:54 am (#)

    Hi there, You have done an excellent job. I’ll definitely digg it
    and personally recommend to my friends. I am confident they’ll be benefited from this site.

  48. virdi access control software download says:

    July 2nd, 2018 at 7:50 am (#)

    lenel Access control

    Thrill Seekers Lack Brakes In The Brain | ScienCentral | Science Videos | Science News :: ScienCentral | Science Videos | Science News

  49. NGH training says:

    July 7th, 2018 at 3:28 pm (#)

    Woah this site can be amazing i adore understanding your site content. Sustain the truly great works of art! You already know, many persons feel the need all over for this information and facts, you’ll be able to help these individuals significantly. Woah this site can be amazing i adore understanding your site content. Sustain the truly great works of art! You already know, many persons feel the need all over for this information and facts, you’ll be able to help these individuals significantly.

  50. feline diabetes says:

    August 21st, 2018 at 7:07 am (#)

    Quality articles or reviews is the important to interest the people to pay a
    quick visit the website, that’s what this web site is providing.

  51. comedy hypnosis show says:

    September 17th, 2018 at 1:12 am (#)

    You can definitely go to your abilities within the paintings you are submitting. The sector desires of a lot more zealous copy writers just like you exactly who usually are not fearful to cover how they believe that. On a regular basis follow your soul.. comedy hypnosis show

Leave a Response


Clicky Web Analytics