Kiwi motor racing champion Scott Dixon is a sensation-seeker – but not an adrenaline junkie. Dr Kenneth Carter has looked inside his mind to find out what keeps him on track. 

A bad pit stop early in the Indy 500 nixed any hope Kiwi racer Scott Dixon had of capitalising on his pole position yesterday.

It’s unlikely though he’ll be going home and throwing things at the wall. Calm amidst the chaos is his way of doing things – he’ll be learning and correcting. And while the loss means he’s slipped down to second in the overall championship, he still has a chance of collecting his seventh title at the end of the season.

You’d think Dixon could be described as an “adrenaline junkie”, but a US Professor of psychology who’s looked into his mental habits says he’s more of a “sensation seeker”.

Dr Kenneth Carter, who studies thrill-seekers, is based at the Oxford College of Emory University in Georgia. He’s interviewed and analysed Dixon as part of a web series for NBC Sports on how high performance track stars think.

Carter found Dixon a fascinating subject, saying the driver understood his own personality really well – and understood how that could help him on the track.

“For some reason – there are chemicals in the body that can account for this – people like Scott that are these high sensation seekers, they can stay really focused, even in chaotic situations,” he says.

“A lot of these really high sensation seekers say that time really slows down for them, and they are also trusting their body to know what to do. We think about them being adrenaline junkies but they’re really not.

“I think what he’s experiencing is focus, and calmness in these situations.”

Four components make up the brief sensation-seeking survey, which you can take on Dr Carter’s website.

They are; thrill/adventure seeking – people who love bungy jumping or rollercoasters for example; experience-seekers, who love sensations of the mind or senses such as travelling to different places or trying unusual foods; and then two factors that tell us how much trouble you might get yourself into with your sensation seeking – boredom susceptibility; and disinhibition, or how wild you are versus needing to plan things out all the time.

Scores are ranked from zero to 40. Dixon scored a 27.

“Forty can be tough because 40 means that you can’t focus very well, you need something new all the time,” says Carter. “But he talked a lot about the importance of routine for him.”

Dixon’s responses indicated both his willingness to take risks and the importance of preparation and routine for him – qualities that make sure he’s not going to make a rash decision at the last moment that hasn’t been planned out.

He ranks lower on things that are likely to get him into trouble, like diving in blindly into situations.

“In order to be smart and strategic you have to have access to your whole brain,” says Carter.

“He has a great combination of those traits to do really well.”

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