Novelty-seeking, the adventurous neophiliacs and well-being

Novelty-seeking, the adventurous neophiliacs and well-being

A recent article by John Tierney in the science section of The New York Times outlines some new trends in research related to novelty-seeking – a personality trait traditionally associated with the brain’s dopamine system, and problems like attention deficit disorder, compulsive spending and gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse and criminal behavior.

Novelty-seeking individuals are identified by particular sets of neurocognitive traits and styles of thinking. Novelty-seeking is defined as a temperament factor that is ‘viewed as a heritable bias in the activation or initiation of behavior such as frequent high novelty responsive exploratory activity in response to novelty’ (Cloninger, C.R., Svrakic, D.M. and Przybeck, T.R., Archives of General Psychiatry; 1993(50), 975–90).

Novelty-seeking behavior is related to individual differences in the dopamine neurotransmitter activity in the brain, and models of novelty-seeking in rodents possess higher basal and stimulated extracellular dopamine (DA) levels in the nucleus accumbens.

Novelty seeking has been linked to low levels of dopamine D2-like (auto)receptor availability in the midbrain, being inversely associated with D2-like receptor availability in the ventral midbrain. Thus, it is highly likely that lower midbrain (auto)receptor availability in the high novelty seekers results in higher dopaminergic responses to novelty (see Figure 1).

novelty seeking figure 1Figure 1. The limited number of available somatodendritic autoreceptors produces less autoinhibition of DA cell firing in high novelty seekers. Thus, high novelty seekers release more DA in axon target regions when stimulated by novelty. From David H. Zald et al. Midbrain Dopamine Receptor Availability Is Inversely Associated with Novelty-Seeking Traits in Humans, Journal of Neuroscience 31 December 2008, 28 (53) 14372-14378; DOI:; Public domain

As per Tierney’s article and according to the psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger novelty-seeking is linked to well-being and “is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age”.

Fans of this trait are calling it “neophilia” and pointing to genetic evidence of its importance as humans migrated throughout the world. The adventurous neophiliacs are more likely to possess a “migration gene,” a DNA mutation that occurred about 50,000 years ago, as humans were dispersing from Africa around the world, according to Robert Moyzis, a biochemist at the University of California, Irvine.

Interestingly, according to C. Robert Cloninger, who extensively studied this trait, people with good health, most friends, fewest emotional problems and greatest satisfaction with life – have a combination of 3 traits – “they scored high in novelty-seeking as well in persistence and self-transcendence.”

The self-transcendence, gives people the larger perspective. This trait is defined as “the capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature and humanity and the universe.”

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Source: Cover Image: Author: Victor Koen. Credit:

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