Sensation seeking: a commentary


  • The author has no conflicts of interests.


Aims  To discuss some of the conceptual and methodological issues about race/ethnicity and sensation seeking not discussed fully in the two empirical papers in this issue.

Methods  The authors of this commentary examined critically the papers in this issue by Vallone et al. and Stephenson et al. and asked if there were underlying or foundational issues that were ignored or not discussed adequately regarding the sensation seeking construct. After reviewing an initial list of those issues, a decision was made to discuss four of them.

Findings  There is inadequate attention paid to: (i) the developmental aspects of sensation seeking and the almost exclusive focus on youth; (ii) the possibility that sensation seeking is relevant primarily for initial events and not continuation, progression within and across drug classes, progression to dependence, regression, cessation and relapse; (iii) the putative multi-dimensionality of sensation seeking and the pervasive tendency of researchers to ignore the dimensions; and (iv) possible lack of validity of the construct within and across racial and ethnic groups.

Conclusions  The two papers in this issue by Vallone et al. and Stephenson et al., each of which is focused on racial/ethnic differences in the relationship of sensation seeking to tobacco attitudes, intentions and tobacco use, suggest that it is time for more foundational research on the relevance of the multi-dimensional definition of the construct. The relationship of the putative dimensions to each other and to other variables, and the utility of the construct for segmenting audiences and predicting public health outcomes, is an area where more foundational research is needed.