Sensation Seeking and Individual Innovativeness

An explorative study of the impact of the Sensation Seeking trait on Individual Innovativeness in professional environments

Master's Thesis, 2019
28 Pages, Grade: 1,3


List of content

List of figures

List of tables

List of abbreviations

1. Introduction
1.1 State of Research
1.2 Research Problem, Objective and Hypothesis

2. Sensation Seeking
2.1 Sensation Seeking Scale and Classifikation
2.2 Physiological Characteristics of Sensation Seeking

3. Survey Construction
3.1 Variables Measurement
3.1.1 Measuring Individual Innovativeness
3.1.2 Measuring Sensation Seeking
3.1.3 Control Variables
3.2 Procedure

4. Analysis and Results
4.1 Summary Statistics
4.2 Empirical Results

5. Conclusion
5.1 Implications for Research
5.2 Implications for Management



List of figures

Figure 1: Yerkes-Dodson law

List of tables

Table 1: Hypotheses

Table 2: Mean Values Number of Realized Innovations, Patent Applications and Business Startups

Table 3: Mean Values Sensation Seeking, TAS, Dis, Innovative Behavior, Associating, and Innovation Culture

Table 4: Measurement Results linear Regression Sensation Seeking and Individual Innovativeness

Table 5: Correlation Strength Sensation Seeking and Individual Innovativeness

Table 6: Correlation Innovative Culture and Individual Innovativeness

Table 7: Correlation Age and Individual Innovativeness or Sensation Seeking

Table 8: Mean Value Comparison Men and Women

Table 9: Mean Value Comparison Academics and Non-Academics

List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

The ability to continuously innovate is a crucial prerequisite for sustainable socio-economic development and growth. The growing importance of innovations results from fast-changing special dynamics of competition and the internationalization of the economy through the in- teraction of various forces like constant scientific and technical progress, changes in custom- er requirements, more intensive competitive processes, and the process of market globaliza- tion. In times of economic stagnation, innovations are regarded as a decisive engine for gen- erating sustainable growth and empower the political and national economy of a region and define its future (Geroski 1995; Gerybadze 2004, p. 3; Springer 2004, p. 167; Hauschild et al. 2016, pp. 24-26).1

Over the years, the scientific, economic, and political understanding of innovation has changed fundamentally. Currently, the question of how the innovative capacity of individuals, organizations, networks, and societies can be increased is not just a question of technologi- cal development, but it becomes more and more important to clarify how innovation- promoting the organizational circumstances and its individual members are. Thus, the classi- cal product and technology orientation has been broken down in favor of a holistic under- standing in order to expand the social and organizational aspects of innovations. People and their working conditions play a decisive role in this view and thus become central drivers of innovation. Research efforts have increasingly taken the view that a company's innovation competence is not only determined by organizational components, but by the skills, charac- teristics, and knowledge of its individuals. Accordingly, employees and executives with the ability to generate and implement innovations are becoming more important as a corporate resource (Romijn et al. 2002; Armbruster et al. 2005; Schweizer 2006; Maier et al. 2007).

Character traits are widely accepted as supporting different capabilities. Creativity, for in- stance, is supported by self-confidence, risk-taking, a critical attitude towards norms, judg- mental autonomy, and non-conformity (Schweizer 2006, p. 165). The impact of personality traits on innovative behavior lead to the theory that personal constructs can be related to innovative behavior to forecast the individual’s potential to be innovative by it’s given person- al traits.

So what personality traits does an innovative person have? The aim of this study was to con- tribute to answering this question and therefore examined the correlation between Innovative Behavior and the personality trait called Sensation Seeking. This personality trait was creat- ed by Marvin Zuckerman in 1964 and has recently been linked to individual innovative strength. Sensation Seeking combines the desire to pursue novel experiences with risk tak- ing and has been associated with creativity. These aspects of the Sensation Seeking per- sonality trait overlap with the prerequisites that very innovative individuals have (Schweizer 2006; Sunder et al. 2017; Dyer et al. 2011). It should be noted that Sensation Seeking is not a case of sensation greed in terms of attraction, where a person is looking for spectacular, unexpected events or attractions, but in the medical sense the physical emotional sensation (e.g. hot flush during excitement).

Sensation Seeking is therefore a physiologically based construct (Zuckerman et al. 1964). According to Yerkes and Dodson (1908) there is an optimal state of arousal between stress and boredom that is genetically determined. The individual’s arousal can be regulated by seeking or avoiding stimulating impulses. Zuckerman assumes that every individual tries to achieve its optimal level of arousal. People with a high initial arousal level tend to seek stimu- lation (sensation) and are therefore called Sensation Seekers (Roth et al. 2003). In theory, these people are constantly looking for new impulses in order to maintain the desired level of stimulation. By means of psychological tests this attribute can be evaluated by the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman 1994, pp. 31-33).

High Sensation Seekers (HSS) are individuals who score high on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale. They tend to have a higher interest in varied experiences and are more open to novel situations and more curious compared to individuals who score low on the Sensation Seeking Scale. Zuckerman’s researches also imply that HSS tend to be more innovative in open-ended situations and problem solving compared to Low Sensation Seekers (LSS). Ad- ditionally, HSS tend to have an extroverted mind, thus they often dominate social situations but also encourage self-disclosure from others (Zuckerman 1994, pp. 57ff.). These individual traits in connection to the high tending willingness to take risks often make HSS trend setters (Workman et al. 2006, p. 77). “They seek out new experiences. They are willing to take risks. They are less averse to conflict and confrontation than the average person [and] they can be identified” (Wymer et al. 2008, p. 296), for instance, through the Sensation Seeking Scale, as extreme sport participants or pilots (Sunder et al. 2017; Gomà-i-Freixanet 2004).

Summarizing, for the reasons specified above, Sensation Seekers seem of high interest as a potential target market for recruitment appeals for innovation management working fields. Nevertheless, this work does not claim to generalize HSS as highly effective or disruptive innovators. However, people with innovative intentions or recruiting managers searching for innovative individuals for their organization, need to identify individuals who have the cour- age to try something new and also the individual requirements to handle arising resistance and upcoming risks which both are very likely to occur during the innovation process (Hauschild et al. 2016, pp. 27–62).

1.1 State of Research

There are different studies investigating the individual’s prerequisites to be innovative. One study found that a correlation exists between Sensation Seeking and innovative outcome. In her dissertation Hardt (2011) successfully validated an instrument for the diagnosis of the innovation competence of individuals with the aim of making the recruitment and develop- ment of qualified personnel more targeted and systematic. According to Hardt (2011), this instrument is able to capture the individual innovation prerequisites. However, it is based on self-assessments whose questions concern direct innovation competence. There is therefore the possibility that respondents will adapt their response behaviour accordingly, which is why method distortion cannot be ruled out. In addition, a test in the form of a survey is not suita- ble for the aimed early identification of individuals.

Schweizer (2006, p. 169) developed a Novelty Generation Model (NGM) that points out the individual’s requirements for the process of novelty generation and the neurocognitive and neuropsychological traits supporting these requirements. For instance, constructs such as Cloninger’s (1994) “Novelty-Seeking”, Zuckerman’s (1994) “Sensation Seeking” or the “Openness to Experience Dimension” in Costa and McCrae’s (1992) Five Factor Model are often related to the individual’s affinity being innovative. A higher willingness to take risks, a pronounced need for novelty and change, openness to unknown situations and habits, curi- osity, hedonism, impulsivity, orientation on activity, are all examples for commonalities be- tween Sensation Seeking and identified innovative drive (Wymer et al. 2008, p. 296; Zuck- erman 2001).

Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen (2008) undertook a six-year study to uncover the differ- ence between innovative entrepreneurs and executives conventional managing directors. Therefore, they studied the habits of 25 highly innovative entrepreneurs and surveyed rough- ly 3,000 managing directors and 500 individuals who had already started companies or in- vented new products. Dyer et al. (2008) imply that innovative entrepreneurs and managing directors behaved similarly when discovering breakthrough ideas and concluded analogies as “five discovery skills” (Dyer et al. 2011, p. 3) that distinguish the most innovative executives: Questioning, Observing, Networking, Experimenting and, due to Dyer et al. (2011, p. 42) most importantly, Associating. Dyer et al. (2008) also find that innovative entrepreneurs are “constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas” (Dyer et al. 2011, p. 24).

Wymer et al. (2008) surveyed 1,100 extreme sport participants to identify the relationship between Sensation Seeking and gender on current civic participation, motivation for volun- teer involvement, intention to participate in the future, and a preference for leadership. They found that HSS reported a “significant desire to work with activist and reform-oriented organi- zations, […] in addition to a tendency to desire leadership roles” (Wymer et al. 2008, p. 287).

Pursuing this approach, Sunder et al. (2017) investigated the correlation between Zucker- man’s (1994) Sensation Seeking trait and innovative outcome in the form of patent applica- tions and the number of associated citations. Therefore, they surveyed 103 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) whom had a pilot license and 1,130 non-pilot CEOs to investigate the corre- lation between CEO Sensation Seeking and corporate innovation. They found that “having a pilot CEO increases the number of patents by more than one third and almost doubles the number of associated citations” (Sunder et al. 2017, p. 3) and thereby constitute a positive relation between CEO Sensation Seeking and corporate innovation outcome.

1 .2 Research Problem, Objective and Hypothesis

Innovational power refers to the ability of individuals or companies to generate and imple- ment innovative ideas. It is of central importance for the future of every company and its business location (Kriegesmann et al. 2007; Shalley et al. 2004). If companies succeed in retaining particularly innovation-competent employees, they can set themselves apart from the competition and realize competitive advantages (Hamel et al. 1994; Maier et al. 2007; Ridder et al. 2005).

Although being innovative is a central resource for successful competition, there are very few isolated, often inadequate and complex methods for diagnosing the innovative strength of individuals. In the existing literature, innovativeness rather describes the ability of organiza- tions to become innovative (Ridder et al. 2005; Wannke et al. 2012). The focus here is on the characteristics of the organization and less on the individual performance requirements of employees, whereas the latter are to be seen as the most important factors for change (Kriegesmann et al. 2007).

Furthermore , regarding the imminent skill shortages and prognosticated ‘war for talents’2, an efficient way to identify people with a high potential being successful innovators is required to make recruitment efforts and investments in innovation projects more effective (Dyer et al. 2011, p. 3; Haller 2003, pp. 21 ff.). Jánszky and Hörnschemeyer (2014, p. 13) state, that the search for and selection of knowledge workers will have to change to the effect that compa- nies will have to apply to the candidates. Under these circumstances using a personality trait to predict the probability of an individual’s skill, seems like a promising approach.

Overall, it remains an empirical question: “Is there a positve correlation between the Sensa- tion Seeking trait and Individual Innovativeness?“ The objective of this study is to contribute part of the answer to the research question. Therefore, the study analyzed the relationship between the Sensation Seeking trait and selected aspects of Individual Innovativeness.

Based on the assumption of a positive correlation between Sensation Seeking and Individual Innovativeness, it was hypothesized that with increasing Sensation Seeking-emphasis, the Individual's Innovativeness increases, and with decreasing Sensation Seeking-emphasis, the Individual's Innovativeness decreases. In order to test the general assumption, a total of 15 hypotheses were developed (Table 1, p. 23).

2. Sensation Seeking

Zuckerman’s (1994, p. 27) definition of Sensation Seeking is “defined by the seeking for var- ied, novel, complex and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experiences.”

The model of the optimal arousal level by Yerkes and Dodson (1908) is at the centre of Zuckerman's considerations and depends on individual life experiences, age, and gender. Zuckerman assumes an optimal state of arousal between stress and boredom that every individual tries to achieve. Accordingly, people with a high level of Sensation Seeking (HSS) have a genetically determined high level of arousal, which they try to increase by stimulation from the outside world. To reach this level, HSS are more willing to take health, social, and financial risks, with the rewarding feeling acting as a motivational driver. Low Sensation Seekers (LSS) have a lower optimal excitation level, which is why only a low stimulation of the outside world is necessary to reach the optimal arousal level. A predictable and orderly lifestyle is consequently more desirable for LSS (Zuckerman 1994).

Figure 1 illustrates the Yerkes-Dodson law according to Robert Yerkes and John D. Dodson (1908) on which Zuckerman's theory is based. It describes cognitive performance as a func- tion of general nervous arousal, also known as activation levels: There is a reverse u-shaped relationship between physiological activation and performance. It is also referred to as the activation model.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Yerkes-Dodson law (Source: Saeed et al. 2017, p. 1)

The course of performance is very variable for every person. It depends on the emotional and motivational level of arousal. If the arrousal level is too low, the optimum performance level is not reached. The increase of the arousal level leads to an increase of the perfor- mance up to a maximum value. If the arousal level rises above the optimum level, the per- formance decreases again due to stress, anxiety and excessive demands (Kreutzer et al. 2011).

Additionally, the Sensation Seeking trait correlates to other dimensions of personality like the need for novelty and change, openness to unknown situations and habits, curiosity, impul- sivity, orientation on activity “and the expressed intolerance for boredom.” (Pizam et al. 2004, pp. 252-253) Sensation Seeking increases with puberty, reaches it’s peak in adolescence and decreases with increasing age. Demographically, individuals who are Sensation Seekers are usually men who are young adults or adolescents (Wymer et al. 2008, p. 289).

2 .1 Sensation Seeking Scale and Classifikation

In 1964 Zuckerman developed the first version of the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS). Over a period of thirty years (1964-1994), the scale evolved from a general standard to a mul- tiscale instrument, and consists of 40 forced-choice items. Summing the elements creates a composite score that indicates a greater need for stimulation or a stronger search for new sensations with higher values. The scale has four subscale factors that test the tendency of an individual to approach new stimuli rather than avoid them. The sum of the four factors determines the individual’s Sensation Seeking-emphasis. A higher total score stands for a higher emphasis of the Sensation Seeking trait. The four subscales after Zuckerman (1994, pp. 31-33) are briefly described in the following.

(1) “Thrill and Adventure Seeking” (TAS) refers to the desire to engage in extreme sports and dangerous activities (e.g. parachuting, deep-sea diving, or mountaineer- ing).
(2) “Disinhibition” (Dis) refers to a lack of inhibited social behavior involving promiscuity and substance use (e.g. social drinking, preference for excessive parties, and in- tense forms of sexuality).
(3) “Experience Seeking” (ES) maintains the desire to seek novel experiences through travel and unconventional friends and lifestyles (e.g. long-time travelers, artists, or punks).
(4) “Boredom Susceptibility” (BS) describes distaste for repetitive, or routine, work and people (e.g. aversion to monotonous experiences, and shown dissatisfaction or tension in such situations).

The procedure of the Sensation Seeking Scale itself consists of a total of 40 dichotomous items (each with 10 items per subscale). Zuckermans SSS-V was further developed and tested in two relevant studies. First Arnett (1994) presented a new conception of the Sensa- tion Seeking Scale named Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking (AISS) that emphasizes intensity and novelty as the only two components of Sensation Seeking. The AISS contains 30 items and is more strongly associated with risk behavior. Second Hoyle et al. (2002) test- ed the Brief Sensation Seeking Scale (BSSS) with only 8 items still including the four-factor structure which Zuckerman had developed.

2.2 Physiological Characteristics of Sensation Seeking

Some biological differences can be observed between HSS and LSS. For example, while the heart rate of LSS increases with exposure to a relatively small external stimulus, the heart rate of HSS decreases with the same stimulus. Another difference can be observed in the evaluation of stimuli. By means of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the brain of HSS of the first dimension (danger and adventure) was examined. It was found that the re- warding feeling of the experience is rated higher than that of the risk itself. High Sensation Seekers need stronger external stimulation to experience feelings of happiness, which is sometimes due to poor transmission of the dopamine signal. A gene3 of the dopamine D4 receptor, which is known for poorer signal transmission, is particularly common among Sen- sation Seekers. This circumstance makes HSS more willing to take risks compared to indi- viduals than others. For example, they like to drive fast or, as already mentioned, practice extreme sports such as parachuting or climbing. Furthermore, the low dopamine level within HSS explains the seeking for new input from outside (Fulker et al. 1980; Zuckerman 1999).


1 This work was carried out in the period from Sep 25th, 2018 until Feb 25th, 2019 at the 2b AHEAD ThinkTank GmbH and is at the same time the author’s master thesis at the University of Applied Science in Leipzig, Germa- ny. Many thanks go to all study participants and Joseph Robert Natoli for his helpful comments. The author would also like to thank Sven Gábor Jánszky, who moved her to the topic of this study, and Jan Berger for the support- ing sparrings. Special thanks also go to Sascha Hommel for his everyday examples, which illustrate what it means to produce innovations in everyday business.

2 The buzzword 'War for Talents' summarizes the increasing difficulty of companies to find suitable qualified personnel. In order to fill vacancies appropriately, there would be a battle between com- panies for the best junior staff, the so-called "high potentials" (Haller 2003, p. 21ff; Vater 2003; Dyer et al. 2011, p. 3; Jánszky et al. 2014, p. 13).

3 More precisely, this refers to a state form of genes at a certain gene locus of a chromosome called “alleles” (Sadava et al. 2011, p. 1687)

Excerpt out of 28 pages


Sensation Seeking and Individual Innovativeness
An explorative study of the impact of the Sensation Seeking trait on Individual Innovativeness in professional environments
University of Leipzig  (Faculty of Economic Sciences)
Technology- and Innovation Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Innovation Management, disruptive Innovation, Sensation Seeking, incremental innovation, innovation culture, innovation personality, innovation competence, innovativeness, innovation ability, individual innovativeness, individual innovation
Quote paper
Yasmin Krause (Author), 2019, Sensation Seeking and Individual Innovativeness, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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