Do you make decisions quickly based on incomplete information? Do you often lose your temper? Are you easily bored? Is your desk a mess?
In the February 14th edition of the New York Times, John Tierney writes: "Those are the kinds of questions used to measure novelty-seeking, a personality trait long associated with trouble. As researchers analyzed its genetic roots and relations to the brain’s dopamine system, they linked this trait with problems like attention deficit disorder, compulsive spending and gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse and criminal behavior. Now, though, after extensively tracking novelty-seekers, researchers are seeing the upside. In the right combination with other traits, it’s a crucial predictor of well-being."
Tierney quotes psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger as saying, "It can lead to antisocial behavior, but if you combine this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence and a sense that it’s not all about you, then you get the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole."
He quotes researcher Winifred Gallagher as saying, "As individuals, we differ in our reactions to novelty, because a population’s survival is enhanced by some adventurers who explore for new resources and worriers who are attuned to the risks involved."
Adventurous people are more likely to possess a DNA mutation that occurred about 50,000 years ago, as humans were leaving Africa and traveling around the world. Scientists postulate this because the mutation is more common in populations far from our African homeland. This genetic variation affects the brain’s need dopamine (the happiness hormone), which some people–like addicts–need more of than others.
The only "cure" is getting older– the need for novelty drops by half between the ages of 20 and 60.
Here’s another novelty behavior: About 6% of Americans have an acute, irrational fear of animals like rats and birds. This type of fear is called a "phobia."
But it’s not just animals. In the March 4th edition of the New York Times, Patricia Pearson writes that a woman once told her that "I have a fear of honeycomb shapes. I can’t look at something like a beehive. The other day, I saw a box of honeycomb-shaped pasta at the grocery store and it really creeped me out." The cure for it is facing what scares you: You stare at images of the objects you fear and eventually, they cease to bother you.
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