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Sensation-seeking (SS) is a personality trait that refers to individual differences in motivation for intense and unusual sensory experiences. It describes a facet of human behaviour that has direct relevance for several psychopathologies associated with high social cost. Here, we first review ways of measuring SS behaviour in both humans and animals. We then present convergent evidence that implicates dopaminergic neurotransmission (particularly via D2-type receptors) in individual differences in SS trait. Both high tonic dopamine levels and hyper-reactive midbrain dopaminergic responses to signals of forthcoming reward are evident in higher sensations-seekers. We propose that differences in the efficacy of striatal dopaminergic transmission may result in differential expression of approach-avoidance reactions to same intensity stimuli. This constitutes a quantitative trait of intensity preference for sensory stimulation that may underlie core features of the SS personality. We review the evidence that high trait SS is a vulnerability factor for psychopathologies related to changes in brain dopamine function, in particular substance and gambling addictions. Conversely, we consider the possibility that increased tolerance of high intensity stimulation may represent a protective mechanism against the development of trauma-related psychopathologies (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder) in high sensation-seeking individuals. Further understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying SS trait might not only to shed light on the aetiology of these disorders, but also aid in developing individualised therapies and prevention strategies for psychopathologies.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Brain Res

Publication Date





79 - 93


Approach-avoidance, Dopamine, Impulsivity, Pathological gambling, Sensation-seeking, Substance use disorder, Animals, Dopamine, Humans, Mental Disorders, Personality, Receptors, Dopamine D2, Risk