How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Arousal Personality Types
Stimulation leads to arousal that is triggered across two thresholds. There is a required level of stimulation we must receive before we feel aroused, below which we are less happy and above which we are more happy. When we have too little stimulation, we feel bored and seek arousal to lift us out of that dull state. This is sometimes also called the 'boredom threshold'.
Some people have a low boredom threshold and are easily aroused. Others have a higher threshold and have to receive greater stimulation before they become aroused. This is one reason why some people hide themselves away while others regularly take significant risks.
Enjoyment of arousal also varies between people. Some people seek it while others avoid it.
Arousal can easily be a pleasurable state where you 'feel more alive' and experience the physiological effects of being aroused. Even negative emotions such as fear can be exciting, perhaps explaining why horror movies are so popular.
People who seek arousal are often known as 'sensation seekers'. Mark Zuckerman and colleagues have identified a measurement scale with sub-categories in the way people seek arousal including:
On the other hand, arousal can be uncomfortable. When you are aroused you have less control over your actions and concern for the esteem of others or adherence to values can cause anxiety and discomfort. Many have a high need for a sense of control and the 'letting go' that arousal can imply makes them avoid many forms of stimulation and consequent arousal.
A lower desire for arousal is related to a second threshold, where increasing arousal pushes the person into a frightening state of being overwhelmed by the stimuli around them. Those who are affected by the autistic spectrum of conditions are particularly prone to overwhelm.
By looking at low and high levels of the basic threshold and desire for arousal, we can identify four types by which we can classify people with regard to how they approach arousal and the consequent effect on their character.
Hedonists are pleasure-seekers who put enjoyment above most other things. While we all seek pleasure, hedonists have a higher than usual need for it and so actively pursue it. It helps that they are quite easily aroused, so encouraging the hedonistic approach. A bit of alcohol. A nice meal. Friendly conversation. These are often enough for the lucky hedonists who can relax and enjoy life.
The low achievers of life may be hedonists. The are happy enough to bumble along, seemingly doing little towards their careers, yet merrily enjoying life as it happens.
Riskers are similar to hedonists in their desire for pleasure through arousal. The problem for them is that they have a higher boredom threshold, which means they have to gain greater stimulation before they feel the pleasure of arousal.
The classic way of doing this is to take risks, which is why people in this group can be found jumping out of aeroplanes, hurtling down ski runs and generally doing anything for the thrill of excitement they get from acting in ways that would terrify most other people.
Low Arousal Theory describes how people who are not easily aroused become 'stimulus hungry' and will even act anti-socially to achieve arousal. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been linked to this.
Like hedonists, avoiders are easily aroused, but they do not like how arousal makes them feel, and hence seek to avoid stimuli which would make them feel even slightly aroused. Such people may have been taught when young that they should not display emotion or they may be afraid of their own reactions to arousal, for example if they have anger management issues.
There are a number of conditions, such as agoraphobia, where a low overwhelm threshold can lead to people isolating themselves. This may be related to a single stimulus, such as being outside and away from the comfort of home.
Calm people have a low desire for arousal and are fortunate enough not to be easily aroused. This lets them face live with a placidity that is the envy of Avoiders and to the irritation of Riskers who tend to find them rather boring.
As some hedonists, they may not seek to develop challenging careers and may be criticized for their lack of drive. But they quietly accept comments and do not mind, knowing that others are different.
Persuasion often involves arousing people, getting them enthused or anxious. If you can see the type of person, you can change how you approach this. For those who seek higher arousal, you can use or offer stronger arousal methods. For those who want lower arousal, use a softer, more subtle approach.
Heath, R.P. (1997). You can buy a thrill: chasing the ultimate rush, American Demographics, June 1997, 19, 6
Sikström S. and Söderlund G. (2007). Stimulus-dependent dopamine release in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychological Review, 114, 4, 1047–75.
Zuckerman, M., Kolin, E. A., Price, L. and Zoob, I. (1964). Development of a sensation-seeking scale. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 28, 6, 477-482
Zuckerman, M., 1979. Sensation seeking: beyond the optimal level of arousal. L. Erlbaum Associates