The sensation seeking highly sensitive male

People who choose a vocation strictly on economic grounds sometimes underestimate how long an eight hour day can be when there is no challenge or interest in the activities they must perform during those hours.” ~Marvin Zuckerman


Have you ever thought “boy, this job is so boring?” For the sensation seeking highly sensitive male this question comes loaded with complexities others might not experience, even sensation seeking highly sensitive females. Marvin Zuckerman found through extensive research that males who are sensation seekers tend to be higher in thrill and adventure seeking and disinhibition than females. Both are factors in a personality trait known as sensation seeking. Sensation seeking is a trait that approximately 30% of highly sensitive people have, in addition to sensory processing sensitivity. Sensory processing sensitivity is a separate personality trait that is seemingly completely dichotomous to sensation seeking because an HSP (highly sensitive person) is marked by deep reflection and processing of all experience in the brain, high empathy and reactivity, tendency toward overstimulation in certain circumstances, and a sensitivity to subtle stimuli. In this short article I will provide an overview of the interaction of these two traits in the sensation seeking highly sensitive male with an emphasis on vocational choice.
Trait dimensions
Sensation seeking 300px-Skydiving123
Sensation seeking is a personality trait defined by researcher Marvin Zuckerman in the 1960s as a result of sensory deprivation experiments and later delineated and defined as a distinct personality trait consisting of four factors:
• Thrill and adventure seeking (TAS) – a desire to engage in sports or other physically risky activities that provide unusual sensations of speed or defiance of gravity, such as parachuting, scuba diving, or skiing.
• Experience seeking (ES) – seeking of novel sensations and experiences through the mind and senses, as in arousing music, art, and travel, and through social nonconformity, as in association with groups on the fringes of conventional society.
• Disinhibition (Dis) – sensation seeking through social activities like parties, social drinking, and sex. Dis may include engaging in activities that are a little unconventional or illegal.
• Boredom susceptibility (BS) – an intolerance for repetitive experience of any kind, including routine work, and boring people.boredom
There have been a number of instruments created to measure sensation seeking in individuals from varied populations and backgrounds. Three of the four factors from which the subscales were developed have shown good cross-cultural and cross-gender reliability. The boredom susceptibility scale has not been as replicable across populations. However a broad general factor contributing to the variance in all the subscales best explains the relations among the subscales (Zuckerman, 1994).


Sensory processing sensitivity

Based on the research of Aron and Aron (1997) and Aron, Aron and Jagiellowicz (2012) highly sensitive people (HSPs) are the 20 percent of the worldwide population who process experience more deeply — fueled by emotion — with no difference in the sense organs themselves. Highly sensitive people subjectively process experience before acting, may be overstimulated by sensory input, are aware of subtleties before others, are highly creative, intuitive, empathic, and conscientious (Aron, 2010). Seventy percent of HSPs are introverted, while 30 percent are extraverted; approximately one third of HSPs experienced unhappy childhoods predisposing them to depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues; approximately two thirds of HSPs experienced happy childhoods and may be no different than others except in terms of their sensitivity; lastly, HSPs tend to be more deeply affected by positive and negative experiences than others due to the depth of cognitive and emotional processing (Aron & Aron, 1997). Jaeger (2004), described HSPs as intense, which seems to be an apt descriptor given the above definitions.
SPS is an innate personality trait that is often confused with introversion and shyness. Introversion, while also a trait, is primarily a measure of sociability; shyness is a learned behavior based on past negative social experiences (Aron, 1997). Taken as a whole we see a group of individuals who think deeply and feel deeply, with a trait that is not widely understood or accepted as normative (Aron, 2010). Introverted HSPs, due to their quiet demeanors and propensity for thinking before acting may appear to others as complex, aloof, unfriendly, and even unintelligent (Bendersky & Shaw, 2013).

Extraverted HSPs may appear similar to other extraverts, yet may be overwhelmed by too much stimulation and need to withdraw and recharge. This may lead others to believe they are neurotic or fragile in spite of their sociability (Aron, 2010). A last group of HSPs exist called high sensation seekers (Jaeger, 2004). These individuals actively seek out stimulation and crave the novelty of new and exciting activities. HSPs with high sensation-seeking tendencies may find themselves simultaneously pulled toward stimulation, yet repelled by too much. Aron (2010) referred to high sensation seeking as having one foot on the brake and one on the gas meaning the craving for stimulation is equally as strong as the need to moderate its intake.
Gender dimensionsgender_roles_by_goldenkitsune_queen-d36g673
Gender is a broad construct that is socially derived and culturally specific. The division by biological sex assignment is reinforced by what are known as gender role norms. Connell (1995) referred to these as hegemonic masculinity. Donaldson (1993) defined hegemonic masculinity as comprising several key characteristics males are supposed to embody including violence and aggression; emotional restraint, courage, toughness, risk-taking, competiveness, and achievement and success. Males who fail to present this version of masculinity, including gay males and males who act even slightly effeminate or who fail to completely adhere to the hegemonic view of masculinity, are subject to ridicule, shaming, and physical and emotional abuse (O’Neil, 1981; Pleck, 1981). Further, males are conditioned from a very young age to believe that aggression and lust are the only acceptable forms of expression (Zeff, 2010; Slater, 2009).
This narrow interpretation of masculinity serves as a gulf that divides the way sensitive males and sensitive females experience life. Many of the qualities of an HSP are more closely identified with the societal definition of femininity than masculinity. Thus, it is more likely that a female HSP will be accepted for exhibiting emotionality, deep empathy, a susceptibility for overstimulation, and high reactivity. This divide, for many HSP males, represents a deep inner conflict calling into question their sense of “manliness,” as defined by the society. There may be real repercussions for males who do not follow this fairly narrow interpretation of masculinity in some regions. In other regions masculinity is being redefined and may lead to a broader conceptualization in time.
For the male who is highly sensitive and a sensation seeker the inner conflict may be even greater, though no less confusing. In most western societies sensation seeking is viewed as more acceptable as an expression of masculinity, even expected. The struggle for the highly sensitive male is how to simultaneously embody the four factors of sensation seeking (each to a varying degree) while experiencing a counter-intuitive inner impulse for restraint, caution, and careful planning. Too often the highly sensitive side is in for an uncomfortable time when the sensation seeking side dominates in some new activity that has not been carefully considered.
The typical image one calls up when confronted with “sensation seeker” involves risky thrills, crazy adventures, and other extreme activities. All of these are glorified in the mass media as the desired embodiment of “real” manhood and masculinity. For the highly sensitive sensation seeking male there may be more interest in experience and novelty seeking than in thrill and adventure seeking. My research seems to indicate boredom susceptibility is common, but disinhibition is less well understood, but generally agreed to as a factor in the lives of HSS/HSP males. The HSS/HSP male may engage more in interesting travel, new and novel experiences (not necessary involving risk), and activities that serve to “keep the boredom away.” The HSS/HSP male exists within a complex, dynamic space where masculinity and femininity merge into psychological and emotional androgyny.

Learning how to effectively express and equal balance of both genders in one being while negotiating a mostly invalidating society that neither understands nor appreciates sensitivity is a minefield of potential conflicts, internally and externally. It is likely many HSS/HSP males simply squash the sensitive side of themselves early in life, or have it squashed for them, by parents, friends, or peers. To do so raises the specter of repressing an important and integral aspect of ourselves whereby we can never be truly whole. For many males these considerations are outweighed by the need to choose a vocation and fulfill their roles as providers, husbands, fathers, and employees.

The choice of vocation is tremendously complicated for many people with numerous factors impacting eventual choice/s. Many young people are attracted by high earning careers and neglect the long-term considerations of career satisfaction, growth opportunities, and quality of the interpersonal and physical working environment. For the HSS/HSP male these issues take a backseat to the prime consideration, as espoused by western societies: the earning of an income. Too often the individual finds himself in work that fails to meet his actual needs. HSS/HSPs are in a more complicated position due to their susceptibility for boredom, need for new and novel experiences, and possibly the sensations associated with thrill and adventures. Disinhibition is higher in sensation seeking males, but for the highly sensitive male this would not likely be as true because the corresponding restraining impulse would serve to provide a cautionary and reflective component. The HSS/HSP male would seem to require a vocation that supplies sensation within an optimal level of arousal, but the considerations are deeper.
The HSS/HSP male is not limited or defined by sensation seeking, though many times the sensation seeking side dominates. The many HSS/HSP males I have interviewed to date have expressed a depth of personality and character that seems to belie Zuckerman’s descriptions of sensation seekers. On some level this would be expected as we are depicting the interaction of two very different personality traits with one, SPS, representing a deep, reflective capacity that may serve to enhance and broaden the sensation seeking drive. I have observed and interviewed a number of HSS/HSP males who seem to quite successfully embody the best of both traits.
Careers for HSS/HSP males
The choice of a career, defined here as a series of interrelated positions typically requiring specialized training, is always complex with certain ambiguities and complexities. One can never predict future long-term satisfaction, only proceed based on a carefully considered benefits versus drawbacks scenario in which issues of compensation are weighed against important issues for HSPs and HSS/HSPs like the need for autonomy, meaningful work, growth opportunities, and appropriate interpersonal and physical working environments. There are however some commonalities that may serve as an effective framework in which one may consider a range of career options:
• Based on one’s expression of sensation seeking (degree to which each of the four factors are expressed) does the proposed career engage these appropriately for you? Will you be too bored, will the work provide a variety of sensations, perhaps allow you to move about or travel? If not are you willing to accept that compromise and indulge your sensation seeking needs after work?
• Is the work meaningful? Does it connect you to others in ways that honor and respect your deep empathy?
• Are the physical and interpersonal working environments appropriate for you? Is it too noisy, too crowded, and too dirty? Are the people you will be working with interesting and creative people? Will they bore you? Are your supervisors arrogant or obnoxious? Are there quiet places you can retreat to on lunch or a break if you need to (outside or at least spacious break rooms)? How demanding is the work on you socially? Will it exhaust you and leave you too drained to be your vivacious sensation seeking self?
• Will you have autonomy? Will you be given the authority to carry out the work you are assigned? Will you be working one-on-one? Will you have a blend of in-office time and field-time? Is telecommuting an option?
• Will you be able to practice the kind of fierce self-care you must as a HSS/HSP male? It’s a delicate balance with real health risks for those who fail to consider the importance of self-care.
• Will the career allow you to effectively and authentically express and embody the complex, dynamic, androgynous male that you are/seek to be? Does the opinion of others, especially those who are more conformist-minded, matter to you? If so how will you compromise and are you willing to do so?
I have interviewed HSS/HSP males from nearly every social class and profession. HSS/HSP males are not limited to any one vocational field. The choice of a career is always a compromise between wants and needs. For the HSS/HSP male the balancing of two personality traits offers tremendous advantages in terms of creativity, drive for novelty and new experiences, but coupled with a susceptibility for boredom and a propensity for disinhibition, which may be less in some HSS/HSP males.
The majority of HSPs are in helping professions, followed by creative, health sciences, and human services. It is my feeling that HSS/HSP males may do quite well in teaching and advisory capacities. The form this may take is myriad and may be as the foreman of a work crew, a trainer at an IT agency, or as the leader of a small business. Formal teaching also offers significant engagement of capacities if the individual is able to become established in secure employment. Other teachers may prefer the independent contracting basis and the freedom of lack of attachments. Most HSS/HSP males that I have interviewed strongly indicate a need for short-term projects and a distinct dislike of long-term projects. Some have indicated that they seek fulfillment of their needs outside of work and are willing to view work in a more limited role, ie., the earning of an income that allows other activities they wish to engage in. Others have sought opportunities for novel and new experiences through their work. Lastly, some have withdrawn from careers they were interested in at first, but ultimately realized were not temperamentally appropriate.
The complex nature of career choice and embodiment for HSS/HSP males enfolds the added dimension of a still narrow view of masculinity. The challenge for this segment of the population is to develop a deep self-awareness, learn to accept themselves as dynamic, reflective beings who can range across the broad scope of human expression while doing so in a way that feels personally authentic. Culture is relative and continuously in a state of renegotiation by its members. For HSS/HSP males the opportunity is to redefine masculinity as a construct that is more inclusive of what it means to be an integral being with a strong drive toward novelty and new experiences coupled with a counterbalancing reflective and empathetic component. As HSS/HSP males redefine themselves they/we also redefine society.
Dr. Tracy Cooper offers one-on-one career consulting from his web site at Dr. Cooper has been a member of the US Army, a builder of alternative architecture, a grower, a soccer/softball coach, a fine artist, and a host of other positions not always well suited to the HSS/HSP personality. He is now an author, consultant, and higher education professional living in the Springfield, Missouri (USA), metro area. For more information visit his web site at the link below.


Aron, A., & Aron, E. (1997). Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to
introversion and emotionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 345-368.

Aron, E. (2010). Psychotherapy and the highly sensitive person: Improving
outcomes for that minority of people who are the majority of clients. New York, NY: Routledge.

Aron, A., Aron., E., & Jagiellowicz, J. (2012). Sensory processing sensitivity: A
review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16, 262-282.

Bendersky, C., & Shah, N. (2013). The costs of status attainment: Performance
effects of individual’s status mobility in task groups. Organization Science, 23(2), 308-322.

Connell, R. (1995). Masculinities. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Donaldson, M. (1993). What is hegemonic masculinity? Theory and Society,
22(5), 643-657

Jaeger, B. (2004). Making work work for the highly sensitive person. New York,
NY: McGraw-Hill.

O’Neil, J. (1981). Patterns of gender role conflict and strain: Sexism and fear of
femininity in men’s lives. The Personnel and Guidance Journal, 60(4), 203-210.

Pleck, J. (1981). The myth of masculinity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Slater, P. (2009). The chrysalis effect: The metamorphosis of global culture.
Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press.

Zeff, T. (2010). The strong sensitive boy. San Ramon, CA: Prana Publishing.

Zuckerman, M. (1994). Behavioral expressions and biosocial bases of sensation seeking. Cambridge University Press

8 thoughts on “The sensation seeking highly sensitive male

  1. Thank you for this article,i found myself totally from the artickle. I have been facing this crossroad of feelings so many time and winning my self so many times have made me very strong person. I have chose right profession(risky) to me but always always i have been thinking why im afraid it and same time loving it. Im also doing extreme sport in world class and its balancing my will to go forward and gives meaning to my life while having also strongh feelings out of it(now i know why). Its scary to know to be so rare among others,that was my first thought reading this artickle but in the same time knowing my self now better comforts me and gives me different kind of perspective in life. I founded hypnoze therapy 6 years ago which saved me and my profession(risky). I had this fear because my work is extreme dangerous and im still battling with that but knowing now why helps me to understand myself,thank you for that. Actually i heard from my hypnoze therapeut that im SPS but i couldt ever imagine that there is on page just for me,sensational seeker. If you want,i can tell you more,my life has been full of intuition and strange happenings. I love my sensational seeking,i would not give it away if i could.





    1. Hi Mikko,
      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found the article to be of value in helping you understand yourself and choice of vocation better. Certainly we seek out new and novel sensations as sensation seekers, while experiencing an often baffling sense of caution. Our sensitive side is always gauging risk and threat, while developing plans for possible actions. That can be a great asset if you are a thrill and adventure seeker because sensation seekers often underestimate the risks involved in an activity. Learning to listen to our sensitive selves can be a great counterbalance to our sensation seeking selves and one that can not only keep us alive, but allow us to appreciate and grow from our experiences. Yes, I’d love to hear more about your experiences 🙂



      1. Hi again,

        Thank you for your response. I really do feel that all above you said make sense. I need to learn to controll both sides,hsp and hss but its not easy. I founded hypnoze therapy to be one key,person who can have the biggest advantage of this is,is a person who reallly can imagine the situtation,i feel this that i can and in my challenging extreme work and sport,strong imagination of mine and possibility to get to deep self hypnoze helps and comforts the hsp side of mine,when i need to relax i use it and hsp side is “feeded”. Knowing now that i have limits and “repair way” helps me. Im very crative and i have achieved all of my dreams and goals with good planning and seeing the result in advance. It takes lots of energy but i think my sensation seeker is like a tool and hsp side like a mindmap. Well,of course i would not contact you so strongly if everything would be perfect, the fear of failure in work is making me harm and i would like to know do you have any suggestions for that,what do you recommend to do when hsp side takes over(if it will) in a dangerous situtation in the field of firefighting? Can i trust that my courage and believe(hhs side) will do the job? I have had good results in my work but the lack of experience at the moment(going back to work first time in 2 years) in my work is making doubts conserning the success in my field. What i have now studied about the hsp/hss,its quite normal feeling to us? Bytheway,my work suits me many ways and now i know why its giving me so much joy,meaningful work,i appreciate it,its never boring and its always sensation seeking.


  2. Hi Mikko,

    Your fear of failure will probably fade in time as you gain confidence in your new career. It’s perfectly natural to feel a good deal of anxiety at first when starting anything. We highly sensitive people do tend to overthink every situation (it’s our nature). My advice would be to relax and just absorb all you can your first few months on the job. Your co-workers and supervisors will likely give you good feedback on how you’re doing. I also recommend talking through some of your anxieties with more experienced firefighters. They will very likely have felt some of the same things and have very good advice for you.

    “Do you have any suggestions for that,what do you recommend to do when hsp side takes over(if it will) in a dangerous situtation in the field of firefighting? Can i trust that my courage and believe(hhs side) will do the job?” Your sensitive side will always be there for you advising caution, reflection before action, and minimizing any risks. That’s not a bad trait to have as a firefighter. Your sensation seeking side will always do just the opposite: underestimate the risk (or accept the risk), rush in with little planning, and to find a thrill from the experience. The best advice is to honor both traits within yourself by listening to the sensitive side that urges caution and careful action, while experiencing the thrill of the moment.

    It is entirely possible to do both and many sensitive sensation seekers are quite successful in their chosen fields. It sounds like you have found something that really feeds your sensation seeking at the moment with firefighting and it’s likely in time you will gain a perspective on how to incorporate your sensitive self. Please feel to keep in touch and update me on your progress and ask any questions you might have!

    Here is a link to a new book you might be interested in and that might help explain life as a firefighter and why it is so rewarding.

    Best of luck!



  3. Hello Dr. Tracy,

    Can I say that reading your article has brought me some peace of mind?

    I have not spoken to my psychologist about the possibility that I am HSP/HSS but through my own independent research I identify heavily with those who are. You might think me fanciful but prior to learning about HSP/HSS I had assigned the masculine and effeminate traits their own image inside my mind. One a man armored in black and white, his pack weighed down with exploration and adventurer gear and the other a constantly shifting vision of color and emotion wanting to be protected and at peace.

    I’m not sure why I shared that, but I think I won’t delete it.

    More to the point it is incredibly relieving to know that others with the same traits have found a career that can suit them. It makes my professional future look much less bleak.. Until I discovered what it was, the back and forth between effeminate and masculine impacted my work ethic severely. Even once I created the two images described above it was a battle to keep everything balanced. I would constantly reject my effeminate side out of hand, trying to repress whatever didn’t fit into my image of a male. It hasn’t gotten easier but knowing is half the battle, right?

    I think I will watch this site.

    Thank you.


    1. Hi ChiefisDumb,

      Thank you and I’m glad the article was useful for you. Being a high sensation seeker or a highly sensitive person (or both as some 30% of us are) is a twist on life that can be very empowering as it reveals some of the motivations behind our behaviors. I can identify with your characterization of the male as armored and ready for the unknown, while the feminine is more diffuse, ethereal, and shifting. Embodying both masculine and feminine, as we highly sensitive males do, can be difficult because society tends to have fairly rigid visions for “male” and “female.” That is changing somewhat and we can help that along by embracing all that we are with confidence and gusto.

      The more we are willing to challenge the boxes society has built to fit us all into the more we enable others to escape their own boxes. Being a sensitive sensation seeking male places us in a unique position because as sensation seekers we may find that aspect of ourselves is much more acceptable and appealing. That acceptance can be a gateway to understanding through which they (those without the trait) can learn more about us. Being highly sensitive is such a gift too, especially when you really get to know it and feel comfortable being reflective, creative, empathetic, and connected to others.

      I am finishing up my new book that talks a great deal more about sensitive sensation seekers. To all who may be interested Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person is nearing completion!


  4. Hi Dr Tracy
    I recently purchased a consultation from you online, and would like to redeem it and book a Skype appt. Please can you contact me and let me know how to go about doing this. Many thanks, Mike


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