How reliable and valid is the Brief Sensation Seeking Scale (BSSS-4) for youth of various racial/ethnic groups?


  • All authors have no conflicts of interests.

Jane A. Allen, American Legacy Foundation, 2030 M Street NW, 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20036, USA. E-mail:


Aims  To assess the reliability and validity of the Brief Sensation Seeking Scale BSSS-4 by race/ethnicity.

Design  Six waves of nationally representative, cross-sectional, Legacy Media Tracking Survey (LMTS) data. Analyses are based on a sample size of 24 328 individuals. Response rates for the individual survey administrations range from 60% to 30%.

Setting  Data were collected by telephone, from April 2001 to January 2004.

Participants  Youth, aged 12–17 years, who completed the LMTS.

Measurements  Sensation seeking was measured using the four-item scale, BSSS-4, published by Stephenson et al. in 2003. A series of items from the LMTS was used to measure youth intention to smoke and smoking behavior.

Findings  Mean sensation seeking scores increased as the risk for established smoking increased. African American youth who are open to smoking or have experimented with cigarettes had lower mean sensation seeking scores than their white and Hispanic counterparts. Coefficient alpha and average corrected item-total correlations suggest that the BSSS-4 is a less reliable measure of sensation seeking for African American youth compared to white and Hispanic youth.

Conclusions  The BSSS-4 is a useful tool for identifying youth at risk for smoking; however, it is less reliable and valid for African American youth compared with other youth. Future research should investigate whether other existing sensation seeking scales are equally reliable and valid across race/ethnicity, and whether an alternative scale could or should be developed that would measure sensation seeking more effectively among African American youth.