Quantifying Behavioral Sensation Seeking With the Aroma Choice Task

Brandon G. Oberlin, Nolan E. Ramer, Sage M. Bates, Yitong I. Shen, Jeremy S. Myslinski, David A. Kareken, Melissa A. Cyders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our goal was to develop a behavioral measure of sensation seeking (SS). The Aroma Choice Task (ACT) assesses preference for an intense, novel, varied, and risky (exciting) option versus a mild, safe (boring) option using real-time odorant delivery. A total of 147 healthy young adults completed 40 binary choice trials. We examined (1) intensity and pleasantness of odorants, (2) stability of responding, (3) association with SS self-report, and (4) association with self-reported illicit drug use. Participants’ preference for the “exciting” option versus the safe option was significantly associated with self-reported SS (p <.001) and illicit drug use (p =.041). Odorant ratings comported with their intended intensity. The ACT showed good internal, convergent, and criterion validity. We propose that the ACT might permit more objective SS assessment for investigating the biological bases of psychiatric conditions marked by high SS, particularly addiction. The ACT measures SS behaviorally, mitigating some self-report challenges and enabling real-time assessment, for example, for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-886
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • addiction
  • alcoholism
  • drug abuse
  • endophenotype
  • novelty seeking
  • risk taking
  • substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology

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