Sensation Seeking

Why do humans always find pleasure in seeking the extreme in most aspects? Why can’t they be contented within the safe zone or living in balance? I too, am guilty of seeking the top notch thrill in some that I do. I suppose this turns back to dualism theory. Positive/negative, for/against, up/down, left/right, man/woman, win/loss and extending to humans brain/heart, intellect/mind. We always think in terms of 2 possible outcomes. Typically either our mind takes one position and brain says reverse. We decide in favor of one or the other, close the matter.

For instance, while eating. Most people often tend to go for the spiciest of all dishes and find pleasure in the pain of pungent spices.  As tempting as it may seem on the menu, it never disappoints us once it’s dissolved in our taste buds as well. Capsaicin, the chemical behind hotness, causes your brain to literally think your tongue is on fire. Despite the awful aftermath of spicy food, admit it, we do enjoy the mouth burning sensations of spicy food. It gives us monetary pleasure and excitement as we fight back the tears and urge to gobble down cubes of ice. Seize the moment, and indulge ourselves in the spicy self-torture for the quick thrill. Masochistic? Haha.

Next up, movies. The horror genre is the top most viewed sort of movies. What kind of a psychopath voluntarily submits him/herself to terror? It’s the aftermath of the movie which appeals us. This is called the excitation transfer process. When people watch frightening films, their heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases. After the film is over, this physiological arousal lingers. Any positive emotions you experience are intensified so instead of focusing on the fright you felt during the film, you recall having a great time and you’ll want to come back for more. Moreover, some people are simply wired to enjoy high levels of physiological arousal and adrenaline rush. Not surprisingly, these individuals also love roller coasters.

Then there’s cold temperatures on the list. How many times have you turned down the heat of your air conditioner especially at night and woke up with your teeth clattering, or in the worst case scenario, catch a fever next morning? I’m guilty. I sleep better when it is cold in the room and I am toasty warm under a thick blanket.
“The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.” –Moby Dick

There are several other sensations that the human body can read only as pure torment. Homo sapiens were the only group of early hominids to emigrate over the entire world, which entailed great risk, so I think humans as a species are characterized by novelty and intensity-seeking and this must have been an adaptive trait.

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