IASC Update January 1999

Our world is all about “temperament.” Our world, and the other world-that world outside skateboarding that has both direct and indirect influences upon the sport and business of skateboarding-reflect directly the influences of personality and character. We are what we are, skateboarders or not. Whether business owners, or customers, who we are is defined by what psychologists describe as our “temperament.”

Much of who we are, what our “temperament” is, oftentimes is determined by our genes-our DNA. Just because we’re born with a particular “temperament” doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that we’re stuck with who we are. One enduring characteristic of humans is our flexibility. That said, a genetic evaluation of skateboarders does make for an interesting consideration.

Finding pleasure in varied, new, and intense experiences is a characteristic of those described as “novelty seekers.” Or, how about the “sensation seeker”? The title depends upon which expert you ask-Dr. Robert Cloninger or Dr. Marvin Zuckerman. They both agree on the basic characteristics of this type of person: thrill and adventure seeking, experience seeking, boredom susceptibility, and lack of inhibition. These characteristics can be determined by a basic personality questionnaire available at your local psychiatric center. The questionnaire scores can be easily interpreted to indicate whether a person is a “novelty seeker” or not.

This information comes to me from a new book, Living with Our Genes, by Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland. My wife Frances (very low novelty-seeking score) and I (very high score) were driving (since I was driving, we were traveling about twenty mph above the speed limit) when she broke the silence with, “Listen to this, `Novelty seeking can be expressed in many different ways. Physical thrill-seeking includes the desire to participate in dangerous sports such as mountain climbing, surfing, or skydiving. Studies have shown that expeditionary climbers, parachutists, and ski instructors score higher than average for this aspect of novelty seeking, while volleyball players and joggers score low.'” The personality questionnaire confirms it-skateboarders and volleyball players are from different molds … Well, different genetic codes, anyway.

Experience, or novelty seeking, doesn’t have to be physical. New sensations can be found through avant-garde music and art, exotic travel, and counterculture experiences. The characteristics just go on and on. High scorers enjoy meeting new people, but don’t necessarily want to get to know them well. They drive too fast. They don’t like boring people, routines, or repetitive experiences. New ideas, especially those that are unconventional and innovative, are preferred by the high-scoring risk taker.

As interesting as this may be, there are problems associated with risk takers, especially in the area of abuse-drinking, drug use, risky sex, and gambling. High scorers on the test have difficulty controlling their impulses. They live at the edge, spend money quickly, with a motto that might be as simple as “Live fast, die pretty.”

High-scoring novelty seekers are better talkers than listeners, have short attention spans (in fact, if you’ve read this far, it probably means you should start working on your volleyball skills), and make quick decisions. Not surprisingly, the novelty seeker is often in charge of their own business, rather than working for a large corporation. Low novelty seekers tend toward the cubicle-accountants, librarians, editors, and computer programmers. This over-simplified generalization ends up being somewhat true: fighter pilots like to party. It all comes down to the basic common denominator-dope. As in dopamine.

Dopamine is an activator of behavior. As a naturally occurring chemical released in our brain, it can actually energize people to seek out pleasure, and when those activities are found and experienced, it’s the release of dopamine that gives uus our pleasure. It’s all about electricity, our own internal electrical jolts taking place in the neurons deep in a section of our brain called the nucleus acumbens. Good sex, a good handrail, or even just the thought of something that brings us pleasure can begin to stimulate the release of dopamine, triggering a reaction in the nucleus acumbens.

Novelty-seeking risk takers are hooked on the pleasure derived from the rush of the risk-it’s not that they are necessarily fond of a risk, but they’re willing to take risks for the reward of the new sensations. All of this is news. It’s only been within the past few years that studies have been completed that can begin to indicate the impact of our genetic structure and its subsequent effect upon the choices and abilities we have as we grow and develop.

Amazingly, researchers have actually discovered specific genes responsible for much of the behavior of the novelty seeker. The D4DR gene tends to be longer in people seeking high-risk activities. This specific gene has to do with dopamine receptibility, is directly associated with Parkinson’s disease, and yes, is more prevalent in males. Men, generally speaking, tend to be greater risk seekers-there are long-standing behavioral activities that accompany this genetic development. The hunter tended to have greater risks than the gatherer.

How important are genes to your business, to your customers, to anyone’s ability as a skateboarder? Genes are the basis from which emerge basic characteristics. More than likely, genes could define your livelihood. How about our own little test? Your own customers’ profile as determined by their behavior and the choices they make in their attempt at pleasure? Do you have a reading corner in your shop? Do you play classical music, or even classic rock? Does your video display feature playbacks of Dan Rather and the nightly news? Yes, maybe, and no.

Without a doubt, our world is affected by team members, customers, employees, and those we do business with. People make up the exchange of our businesses. People are our business. Through experience I know what it’s like to be on the road with a van filled with novelty-seeking high-strung seekers of thrills. There are times when it just doesn’t work, the need for volleyball, or at least for someone who isn’t hell-bent on thrills, can have the immediate benefit of bringing order to chaotic madness. This isn’t meant to offer excuses for the hyperactive, distracted, fast-talking, thrill-a-minute folks amongst us, but it might be worth considering as you ponder why some employees, skaters, or people you know don’t play volleyball … or do.

The other world, outside skateboarding, is actually having this discussion. There are those, educated and informed, who consider the importance of nature (heredity and genetics) and nurture (the impact of family, environment, and circumstance) upon behavior. Let’s face it, it almost goes without saying, even in the most politically correct of circles, that skateboarders, by and large, are thrill-seeking, novelty-seeking, risk-taking, dopamine addicts. We’re in it for the rush-whether it’s a hill, a handrail, meeting the ad deadline, getting the shot, or pulling the trick. It’s a rush. Always has been, always will be.

See you in the fast lane.

Jim Fitzpatrick was an original member of the Makaha Skateboard Team in the early 60s. These days, as executive director of the International Association Of Skateboard Companies (IASC), he helps communities and businesses promote the sport of skateboarding. Jim can be reached at: (805) 683-5676.