Sensation-Seeking and Violence Reduction

08 December, 2020
Do you know how violence can be reduced? The answer lies in offering alternatives in order to satisfy sensation-seeking individuals.

You live in a society. Within that society, you belong to several groups. And within these groups, you aspire to reach an important position. In other words, you want to find meaning by being a member of these groups. This means you have two identities. Firstly, you have your personal identity. Secondly, you have your social identity. Within these groups, sensation-seeking can help reduce violence.

You tend to try to stand out in the groups you belong to. You want to be an important person in the group. We call this particular need “the search for meaning”. The search for meaning is a fundamental desire. It’s your wish to feel that you matter, that you’re someone, and that you’re respected.

These groups are all immersed in your culture. Your search for meaning leads you to try to achieve the things that these groups value. In other words, what you consider culturally important. This often coincides with what other people in your cultural and social group admire.

“I knew only one thing–which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.”

-Victor Frankl-

Four people lying down.

Search for meaning

Your need for meaning in a group is usually triggered by certain circumstances. The most characteristic circumstance is that you’ve experienced a loss of meaning. You might feel humiliated, for example, or feel like you’re under threat. On the other hand, you might want to gain meaning by climbing the social ladder.

Once your search for meaning has been triggered, you’ll focus all your attention on the group. This way, you can discover the different norms and rules of the group. The members of the group will then tell you what you need to do to gain or regain meaning. This is due to the fact that the group’s ideology or narrative dictates these demands and requirements.

Therefore, if the group’s ideology indicates that meaning can only be achieved by violence, members become violent extremists. Fortunately, most groups don’t justify violence. Consequently, the search for meaning may also mean that important group members can be committed to non-violent values.

Sensation-seeking

One of the reasons why people join radical groups is because they’re sensation-seekers. This sensation-seeking is understood as the search for varied, complex, novel, and intense experiences. It also represents the individual’s readiness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experiences.

As a result, many sensation-seeking young people end up joining extremist groups. These groups are characterized by their acceptance and promotion of violence. Therefore, the young person’s search for meaning corresponds with sensation-seeking behavior that these extremist groups endorse.

A gang demonstrating sensation-seeking and violence.

The role of sensation-seeking in political violence

Birga Schumpe conducted studies that demonstrated that young people looking for new experiences don’t choose extremist groups if they can find alternatives. Indeed, these studies suggested that sensation-seeking can lead to prosocial and constructive activities.

These results could help create alternatives to extremism. For example, give young people alternatives to prevent them from joining extremist groups. They can join the Peace Corps or do humanitarian work abroad for an NGA. In fact, they need to be given novel, complex, and intense alternatives. Indeed, offering them situations that don’t involve the use of violence.

For example, young people could attend assemblies and public performances like plays. They could also take part in marches and parades, humorous skits and pranks, and speeches advocating peaceful resistance. These alternatives would satisfy the young person’s sensation-seeking feelings by restoring meaning for them in their social group.

  • Schumpe, Birga M, Jocelyn J Bélanger, Manuel Moyano, y Claudia F Nisa. «The role of sensation seeking in political violence: An extension of the significance quest theory». Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1 de noviembre de 2018. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000223.
  • Schumpe, Birga M, Jocelyn J Bélanger, Manuel Moyano, y Claudia F Nisa. «The role of sensation seeking in political violence: An extension of the significance quest theory». Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1 de noviembre de 2018. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000223.