The High Sensation Seeking (HSS) Introvert

You, too, may have heard the following if you’re a high sensation seeking introvert:

“Introverts are all highly sensitive!”

“Extraverts all crave external stimulation!”

“You’re actually an extravert with social anxiety. Perhaps an introverted extravert.”

“You probably have ADHD of some sort. Can you do a re-test?”

“You’re still finding yourself, give it some time.”

It took approximately a decade of personal research and professional advice to get to this point. I had identified with plenty of extraverted traits, such as seeking out novel experiences and places to travel to.

Being open, energetic, and easy to talk to. Seeking the limelight in certain situations (I was a vocalist in my high school rock band during my senior year). 

But I need time to myself, or I’ll be running on an empty tank. 

A Little Timeline on My Journey Through High Sensation Seeking

Enter elementary school. I figured out a system for trading snacks. I may have only gotten Dunkaroos once a week, but with a little magic, I was eating them everyday (without stealing).

Sorry, mom. And screw you, Andrew, for stealing my snacks and stationery.

Also, I was relentlessly criticized for being “too excited” all the time and was told to “take a chill pill” every other day. Fruit by the Foot still warrants that same level of excitement.

I’ll rearrange all of my books, clothes, or furniture every few weeks or so out of boredom. If things stay the same for too long, there’s an itch to shake things up. Yes, I’ve gotten in trouble because of this countless times.

Minimalism may have been a learned response to this constant reorganization. Besides, experiences (and ideas) were more valuable than possessions and knowledge. 

I kept one small (4 by 5 inch) notebook through middle school because binders were unnecessarily clunky and heavy. Hey, if it got the job done and saved me from chronic back strain, so be it.

Over the years, I’ve joined track and field, choirs, bands, neuroscience societies, the school newspaper, math club, announcements…again, all over the place. 

However, I realized I was only truly comfortable in one-to-one settings—I do enjoy connecting with many people, but I needed to focus on having a thoughtful, meaningful conversation.

Solitude brings me a quiet ripple of peace and comfort, and crowds will drain me faster than a 10-minute phone call from HR. Too much solitude, however, feels stifling. And boring. 

Friends and acquaintances have joked before that I really lack a “type” when it comes to dating. I do think all of my previous partners were drastically different from me.

In hindsight, I learned something from each one of them: setting better boundaries, the importance of time organization, and permission to rest whenever. Thanks, guys. 

Roller coasters and heights are strangely relaxing. Once, I was selecting a Netflix program with a friend, who happily watches the same movie every few months or so. I deemed that as mental torture—and asked them, why?

Because, apparently, it brings them a sense of nostalgia. I find happiness in trying new things…especially the uncertainty and adrenaline of the unknown. 

Psychologists have called me an “interesting case” and a “tough nut to crack” as I’d test just under the formal clinically qualifying score for ADHD every time. My attention span can have a mind of its own some days.

During university selection, I felt a looming sense of dread. I had too many (seemingly unrelated) interests. Psychology, graphic design, meteorology, improv, foosball, singing, and board games, just to name a few.

I’d regularly skip certain lectures to attend other ones with my friends. Sometimes I’d sneak into a random hall for fun. There were so many interesting subjects to choose from—like a kid in a candy store.

Except I’ll take the whole store. And that’s why I realized academic specialization was going to be counterproductive. 

There are at least a dozen unfinished projects collecting dust. (This article was, admittedly, one of them.) I’m learning to embrace the process until completion.

What Exactly is High Sensation Seeking (HSS)?

High sensation seeking (HSS) can be broken down to a few core components. 

  • Tendency to seek out new experiences
  • Drive towards intensity
  • Motivated by novelty as opposed to risk
  • Higher bar for adrenaline

The Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS), later modified for brevity (BSSS), was conceptualized by Canadian psychologist Marvin Zuckerman.

It contains forty items (questions) of two forced choices, which are organized under four scales:

  • Disinhibition
  • Boredom Susceptibility
  • Thrill and Adventure Seeking
  • Experience Seeking

High sensation seekers have a higher threshold in their brains for rewards and excitements (in the prefrontal cortex, specifically), and are sometimes associated with risky behavior.

This is untrue—risk-taking is a completely different psychometric scale. The two scales sound intercorrelated, yet are separate. 

Many studies have been conducted showing the link between high sensation seeking with antisocial behavior, neuroticism, and psychopathy. High sensation seeking is one link to a myriad of personality disorders, as well as substance use disorders, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.

On the other hand, HSS is linked to higher creativity and the tendency towards entrepreneurship. HSS may provide clues as to what’s going on in someone’s head. 

High Sensation Seeking and Introversion – A Myth?

Introverts need plenty of time to themselves to recharge and recuperate. I tend to express myself better in writing, where I can gather my thoughts and reflect upon them, than over the phone.

And if there are loud concerts, fast cars / coasters, or bright lights in VR—then sign me up. Trying something new and a little nerve-wracking? Definitely sign me up.

I perform at my best by working alone, without interruptions. Unlimited breaks, as long as I’d get the job done well—and quickly. I hated the whole notion of  “pretending to look busy.”

So, by natural corporate selection, I either willingly quit from my jobs or got fired for “not being the right fit,” so to speak. I valued my time, self-improvement, and autonomy. 

The corporate environment took all three away. I was subjected to countless (often meaningless) meetings, watercooler chit-chats,  Freelancing, however, allowed me to manage my time however I wanted to.

High sensation seekers, in my opinion, would fare well in entrepreneurship due to their tenacity and ever-curious mind. They can be their own bosses, run their own schedule, and carve the path they desire to accentuate their strengths.

Maybe that looks like a variety of side hustles with a main business they run during the day. Maybe a passive income machine that runs 24/7. 

With introversion thrown in the mix, entrepreneurship may look a little different. A penchant for alone time may seem almost paradoxical to building a business—but it can be reframed as a strength.

Tons of time for deep work and focus may translate to superb video editing skills, sewing prowess for vintage finds, or copywriting that can make any onlooker smile. 

I hope this resonates with someone out there. Maybe a friend or family member. Introverts can be high sensation seeking, too!

Your bestie may not be reorganizing again because they’re a Virgo. And your daughter is sane, her brain may just be wired a little differently.


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