Thursday, March 01, 2012

Neophily - Exuberance for Novelty predicts well being.

I've been meaning to point to John Tierney's interesting piece in the NYTimes that emphasizes the work of Robert Cloninger, the psychiatrist who developed personality tests for measuring the trait of novelty seeking:

...a trait long associated with trouble.. problems like attention deficit disorder, compulsive spending and gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse and criminal behavior...After extensively tracking novelty-seekers, researchers are seeing the upside. In the right combination with other traits, it’s a crucial predictor of well-being. Winifred Gallagher's new book “New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change” ...argues that neophilia has always been the quintessential human survival skill, whether adapting to climate change on the ancestral African savanna or coping with the latest digital toy from Silicon Valley....she classifies people as neophobes, neophiles and, at the most extreme, neophiliacs...
...adventurous neophiliacs are more likely to possess a “migration gene,” a DNA mutation that occurred about 50,000 years ago, as humans were dispersing from Africa around the world, according to Robert Moyzis, a biochemist at the University of California, Irvine. The mutations are more prevalent in the most far-flung populations, like Indian tribes in South America descended from the neophiliacs who crossed the Bering Strait.
...These genetic variations affect the brain’s regulation of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the processing of rewards and new stimuli (and drugs like cocaine). The variations have been linked to faster reaction times, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a higher penchant for novelty-seeking and risk-taking.
Cloninger...has.. tracked people using a personality test he developed..looking for traits in people..who reported the best health, most friends, fewest emotional problems and greatest satisfaction with life...they scored high in novelty-seeking as well in persistence and self-transcendence (which he describes as the capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature and humanity and the universe).
Advice from Gallagher and Cloninger:
..both advise neophiles to be selective in their targets. (Neophilia spurs us to adjust and explore and create technology and art, but at the extreme it can fuel a chronic restlessness and distraction.).. Don’t go wide and shallow into useless trivia...Use your neophilia to go deep into subjects that are important to you.

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