Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Shirtcliff, Elizabeth

Second Advisor

Marsee, Monica

Third Advisor

Martel, Michelle


We attempted to identify the psychobiological mechanisms that mediate the process by which the sensation seeking trait culminates in behavior. We used the Sensation Seeking Scales to assess the SS trait in individuals who expressed a desire to skydive. We obtained measures of autonomic (heart rate) and endocrine (salivary cortisol) activity before, during and after skydiving. To distinguish the contribution of novelty, we compared novices (N=29) to experienced jumpers (N=15). All jumpers exhibited HPA-axis activation; novices exhibited a prolonged response and more extreme peak in cortisol compared to experienced jumpers, suggesting that novelty contributes to an intense pattern of stress responding. Both groups displayed increases in heart rate; there were no significant differences between the groups, indicating that repeated exposure to the stressor did not habituate this system. We provided evidence that the stress response systems instantiate novelty and risk to motivate and reward behavioral expressions of the SS trait.


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