Sex differences in sensation-seeking, Scientific Reports

Our meta-analysis on sex differences in sensation-seeking in human beings was published today in Scientific Reports.

Cross, C., Cyrenne, D. A. and Brown, G. R. In press. Sex differences in sensation-seeking: a meta-analysis. Scientific Reports 3 http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep02486

Press release: Sex differences in behaviour: has the thrill gone?

Men have become less willing to engage in physically challenging activities over the past 35 years, according to a meta-analysis of studies on sensation-seeking, published in the journal Scientific Reports. The findings support the argument that some sex differences in behaviour have declined in response to recent cultural changes.

Sensation-seeking is a personality trait reflecting the desire to pursue novel or intense experiences, even if risks are involved, and is measured using questionnaires, such as the Sensation Seeking Scale, version V (SSS-V). In the late 1970s, men answering the SSS-V were more likely than women to say that they would like to try parachuting, scuba diving or mountaineering. However, over the past decades, men’s thrill- and adventure-seeking scores on this same questionnaire have declined, and average male scores are now more similar to average female scores.

The lead author of the study, Dr Kate Cross at the University of St Andrews, suggests that “the decline in the sex difference in thrill- and adventure-seeking scores could reflect declines in average fitness levels, which might have reduced people’s interest in physically challenging activities. Alternatively, the questions were designed in the 1970s could now be out-of-date.” Skiing, for instance, may no longer be viewed as a novel or intense activity.

The study also showed that sex differences in other measures have not changed across time. For example, men consistently report higher average scores than women for disliking dull or repetitive activities, and for enjoying challenging social situations. These stable sex differences could reflect sex differences in predispositions that favour novelty-seeking in men, in combination with social factors that continue to value greater risk-taking in men than in women.