The role of sensation seeking in political violence: An extension of the significance quest theory

Birga M. Schumpe, Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Manuel Moyano, Claudia F. Nisa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adventure and excitement have often been invoked to explain why people engage in political violence, yet empirical evidence on the topic has thus far been anecdotal. The present research sought to fill this gap in knowledge by examining the role of sensation seeking in political violence and integrating this concept with Significance Quest Theory (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009; Kruglanski et al., 2013). Extending prior research on violent extremism, Study 1 found that sensation seeking mediated the relation between meaning in life and willingness to self-sacrifice and support for political violence. Study 2 established temporal precedence of the variables in the mediation model, using a longitudinal design. Studies 3 and 4 experimentally replicated findings of Studies 1 and 2. In Studies 5a and 5b, we found that sensation seeking predicts support for a real life violent activist group. In Studies 6a and 6b, the positive evaluation of a violent activist group by individuals high in sensation seeking was explained by how exciting they perceived the group to be. Finally, Study 7 introduced an intervention targeting the sensation seeking motive by presenting participants with a peaceful (less exciting vs. exciting) activism group. As hypothesized, providing individuals high in sensation seeking with a peaceful yet exciting group mitigated their support for extreme behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-761
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Political violence
  • Search for meaning
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Sensation seeking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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