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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Why Men Drive Fast and Take Chances

Question: Are men more prone to possess the sensation-seeking trait?

Marvin Zuckerman: Well we find that it’s genetic in both, but males are almost always higher on the general trait and particularly on those subscales that deal with impulsivity. We call them disinhibition, for instance is one scale. And another is Thrill and Adventure Seeking. These are things men are particularly high on. These are things that also peek in adolescence and decline with age. So that’s an interesting thing because sensation-seeking also peaks in adolescence, it higher in men then women, peeks in adolescence, late-adolescence and declines with age.

Question: How does modern society repress the sensation-seeking gene?

Marvin Zuckerman: Well in the past, sensation-seeking was found in just the struggle for survival. Hunting I would imagine. The successful hunters were men who enjoyed it even at the risk of hunting large mammals. Mammoths and things like that. War has always been fighting among men, and still is related to sensation-seeking. But in modern western society where there is no war, most people find their sensation in other kids of activities. For instance, thrill and adventure seeking. Ordinary sports don’t provide much of that, exception sports like skydiving and hang gliding and white water rafting and things like that provide the sensation thrill and adventure seeking for a minority of people who engage in them. Your modern average man for instance finds his sensation-seeking in the way he drives his car. We find the high sensation seekers are more risky drivers. They drive at higher speeds, young males have more accidents, they tailgate; they use their cars for thrill and adventure seeking, and aggression. Sensation-seeking isn’t all thrill and adventure seeking. Sensation-seeking has outlets through other aspects through sex for instance. Which again is the reason for it’s survival that was involved in seeking a mate. And some men, and women, need a lot of variety in their sexual outlets and behavior and others don’t need that much variety and therefore are more monogamous. So that's one area. Drugs, drinking, partying, these are all outlets for sensation seekers involving different kinds of risks, but involving risk nevertheless.

Question: Are risk-seekers more prone to becoming addicted to drugs?

Marvin Zuckerman: Well, there are four types of risk taking which form the core you might say, smoking, drinking, drugs and sex. Now you can see three of those are substance abuses, and they act through the central nervous system. They act on centers in the central nervous system that give intrinsic pleasure. Particularly stimulant drugs like cocaine. They provide pleasure. They provide the kick that activities provide, like sex provides, for the sensation seeker. They are all correlated because they are all aspects of intensity seeking sensation and the novelty too. There’s a difference, for instance, in drug users between those who are high sensation seekers and those that are low. I found this out when I was treating drug abusers. The low sensation – well the average sensation-seeking drug abuser tries one drug which he enjoys particularly and sticks to it. The low’s try many different drugs. So, invariably they get into odd drugs like LSD that affect their minds as well as they provide unusual sensations as well as arousal, the low’s stay away from those drugs.

I remember once sitting around in a discussion in this drug abusing community and they were relating their drug experiences. One of them was a high sensation-seeking LSD user and he was talking about that he – and another one was shaking his head. And they asked him, “Joe, why are you – what do you think of this?” He says, “Man, that’s crazy.” Now this is a heroin abuser understand. “Why would anyone fool with that? That’s dangerous. It’ll fuck with your mind, you know?” He just couldn’t understand it, he just used heroin which initially provides some highs, but eventually it’s used because of the lows because you need it to stay feeling normal

Question: What is a specific link between high sensation-seeking and drug use?

Marvin Zuckerman: You find for instance that high sensation seekers – there are not many men who love war and combat, but there are a few, there are some who really find that exciting and will re-volunteer simply because they are bored with military life outside of combat. And there are various substances which are interesting as they stimulate the same sensors that are stimulated by intense and novel external stimulation. Drugs do that more directly, particularly drugs like cocaine.

Since the days of hunting and gathering, males have been hardwired to seek out novelty and risk. Yet in today’s society, this trait often proves fatal.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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