Sensation seeking is a psychological trait characterized by a search for intense and novel experiences.

Marvin Zukerman is one of the first psychologists looking into this concept in great detail. Zukerman developed a scale (Sensation Seeking Scale, SSS, 1971) that he developed over time. Zukerman’s scale is one of the most cited, but one can argue that the scale has various issues, as explained by Jeffrey Arnett (1994). One example of an issues is that the Zukerman scale uses dated words, making it less suitable today. Note that even the Arnett scale is more than 20 years old too, though.

One of the interesting things about the trait sensation seeking is that it explains a range of human behaviors that are not necessarily "rational" in modern society, including thrill-seeking hobbies such as sky-diving and base jumping. Arguably, thrill-seeking behaviors such as hunting were of a selective advantage in the stone age, although the trade-off was a higher mortality risk. Interestingly, the trait sensation seeking might be in your genes (see article, see also the Marvin Zukerman interview video).

Great video of Marvin Zukerman talking about sensation seeking.

In the scale implemented here, as in the Zukerman scale, men score higher in sensation, seeking, and sensation seeking goes down with age. The AISS has 20 items (scored from 0-4). There are two subscales:

  1. Intensity

  2. Novelty

Here is a summary of the findings from Arnett (1994). The sample (in Arnett’s study 2) consisted of 139 adolescents (aged 16-18 years, 67 boys, 72 girls) and 38 adults aged 41-59 years (30 of the adults were aged 41-50):

Scale range Adolescents Adults













Run the demo

The Arnett paper (1994) does not state anything about the use of the scale by others. Therefore, it seems that you can use it for your own research project, as long as you acknowledge and cite Arnett’s paper.


This is a straightforward scale item with some reversed scored items.

The survey code for PsyToolkit

Copy and paste this code to your PsyToolkit account if you want to use the scale in your own online research project
scale: howwell
- {score=4} describes me very well
- {score=3} describes me somewhat
- {score=2} does not describe me very well
- {score=1} does not describe me at all

l: aiss
t: scale howwell
q: For each item, indicate which response best applies to you
- I can see how it would be interesting to marry someone from a foreign country.
- {reverse} When the water is very cold, I prefer not to swim even if it is a hot day.
- {reverse}  If I have to wait in a long line, I’m usually patient about it.
- When I listen to music, I like it to be loud.
- When taking a trip, I think it is best to make as few plans as possible and just take it as it comes
- {reverse} I stay away from movies that are said to be frightening or highly suspenseful.
- I think it’s fun and exciting to perform or speak before a group.
- If I were to go to an amusement park, I would prefer to ride the rollercoaster or other fast rides.
- I would like to travel to places that are strange and far away.
- {reverse} I would never like to gamble with money, even if I could afford it.
- I would have enjoyed being one of the first explorers of an unknown land.
- I like a movie where there are a lot of explosions and car chases.
- {reverse} I don’t like extremely hot and spicy foods.
- In general, I work better when I’m under pressure.
- I often like to have the radio or TV on while I’m doing something else, such as reading or cleaning up.
- It would be interesting to see a car accident happen.
- {reverse} I think it’s best to order something familiar when eating in a restaurant.
- I like the feeling of standing next to the edge on a high place and looking down.
- If it were possible to visit another planet or the moon for free, I would be among the first in line to sign up.
- I can see how it must be exciting to be in a battle during a war.

l: aiss_score
t: set
- sum $aiss

l: aiss_novelty
t: set
- sum $aiss.1 $aiss.3 $aiss.5 $aiss.7 $aiss.9 $aiss.11 $aiss.13 $aiss.15 $aiss.17 $aiss.19

l: aiss_intensity
t: set
- sum $aiss.2 $aiss.4 $aiss.6 $aiss.8 $aiss.10 $aiss.12 $aiss.14 $aiss.16 $aiss.18 $aiss.20

l: feedback
t: radio
q: Here are your scores, and those from the Arnett (1993) study:<br><br>
<table border=1>
<tr> <th>Scale</th>     <th>range</th> <th>You</th>             <th>Adolescents</th><th>Adults</th></tr>
<tr> <td>Total</td>     <td>0-80</td> <td>{$aiss_score}</td>    <td>54.52</td>       <td>45.89</td></tr>
<tr> <td>Novelty</td>   <td>0-40</td> <td>{$aiss_novelty}</td>  <td>27.66</td>       <td>26.08</td></tr>
<tr> <td>Intensity</td> <td>0-40</td> <td>{$aiss_intensity}</td><td>26.86</td>       <td>19.82</td></tr>
- Okay, can I go skydiving now?
- Okay, I 'll go for a cup of decaf coffee.


  • Arnett, J. (1994). Sensation seeking: A new conceptualization and a new scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 289-296.

  • Zuckerman, M. (1971). Dimensions of sensation seeking. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 36, 45-52.

  • Zuckerman, M., Eysenck, S. B. G. & Eysenck, H. J. (1978). Sensation seeking in England and America: Cross-cultural, age, and sex comparisons. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46, 139-149.