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High sensitivity: when the filter in the head is missing

Status: 01/14/2023 11:08 AM

People handle stimuli and experiences very differently. Many today describe themselves as very sensitive. What is this actually? Science is still looking for answers.

Highly sensitive people are more sensitive to stimuli such as noise, light, or social stimuli. They seem to have filters that are more extroverted than others and perceive the smallest changes or differences in their environment directly, are more emotionally involved and process stimuli more deeply than others, for example by thinking about things for longer.

Often excessive

As a result, highly sensitive people become overwhelmed with stimuli more quickly, tense, overstimulate, and burn out from impressions, and need more opportunities to unwind. “For some, that means they need a break after visiting the supermarket,” says psychologist Corinna Griffin of Radboud University. SWR, which conducts research in this still young field of research. The so-called behavioral inhibition – the tendency to withdraw and avoid unfamiliar situations – is attributed to highly sensitive people.

High sensitivity, explains Griffin, is scientifically defined neither as a disease nor as a disorder, but as a personality trait such as introversion.

American psychologists Elaine N. Aron and Arthur Aron described such a “hypersensitive person” in 1997 and justified it at the time. The concept of high sensitivity. Elaine Aron also hypothesized that high sensitivity could be inherited.

How do you measure high sensitivity?

Whether or not someone is highly sensitive is still fundamentally related to a person Survey Thus it is determined by self-referencing. The first test of this kind was introduced by Elaine Aron in 1997, laying the groundwork for research into high sensitivity:The scale of a hypersensitive person(HSPS). As a guideline, Aron says: Anyone who agrees with more than 14 of the statements on a test is probably very sensitive.

This is still a source of criticism in science today. Psychologist Pia Kapitsch explains that because people with anxiety disorders, for example, also score high on such a test.

How many are affected?

2018 was on study I tested this HSPS scale on a large number of people. According to this, about 30 percent are low sensitive, 40 percent are medium sensitive and about 30 percent are highly sensitive.

However, many experts assume that there is no sharp dividing line between normal sensitivity and hypersensitivity: According to psychologist Griffin, each of us moves somewhere on the sensitivity spectrum. Most of them are in the middle, some particularly sensitive and others hardly at all. Highly sensitive people are at the upper end of this scale. Griffin explains that there are also links between ADHD, ADD, and highly sensitive people in terms of sensitivity to sensory overload. However, not much has been explored yet.

Is there a separate concept?

The fact that there are individual differences in response to environmental stimuli is somewhat indisputable in science. However, whether high sensitivity is the best concept to describe this is debatable.

For example, the Berlin psychologist Jens Asendorpf holds that highly sensitive personalities can indeed be appropriately captured with the Big Five, an approach to describing human personality. These five factors are the result of decades of personality research and are the empirically proven personality traits that are the best.

One of the five factors is neuroticism—the tendency toward emotional instability, anxiety, and sadness. However, Griffin finds equating high sensitivity with it outdated: “We’ve now been able to disprove that very well scientifically, and it’s not enough. Because statistically, there’s only a medium association, so it’s not the same.”

Research status is still poor

It remains unclear whether objective signs of high sensitivity can be identified. Research is weak in understanding why some people are more sensitive to stimuli than others. Still, a large number of studies come from the inventor of the term hypersensitivity herself: Elaine Aron.

Researchers at Helmut Schmidt-University Hamburg want to change that and are currently conducting a study in which the deep processing of highly sensitive people is examined using the so-called Stroop model.

The task of the subject in this test is to name the color in which the words are written, but not to read the words themselves. The researchers hypothesize that highly sensitive people have a longer reaction time than less sensitive people once the “inadequate condition” occurs in this test: that is, once the word has no meaning. For example “red” is written in green. In addition, researchers use heart rate variability to check whether highly sensitive people actually get stimulated more quickly when asked to perform and eventually calm down again more slowly.

High sensitivity as an opportunity

Even if higher sensitivity is still a young and under-researched area, it can help people who react more strongly to stimuli and become overwhelmed by stimuli more quickly to better understand themselves. Their environment can then be designed accordingly.

Highly sensitive people, Greven explains, are also enrichers of the world of work, because they are highly empathetic, innovative, and able to empathize with others if the working conditions are right.