These are more interesting studies, from various dates. I am still catching up.
1.Role of Childhood Adversities and Environmental Sensitivity in the Development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in War-Exposed Syrian Refugee Children and Adolescents.
Karam, E. G., Fayyad, J. A., Farhat, C., Pluess, M., Haddad, Y. C., Tabet, C. C., … & Kessler, R. C. (2019). Role of childhood adversities and environmental sensitivity in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in war-exposed Syrian refugee children and adolescents. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 214(6), 354-360.
This is a fascinating study. The participants were over 500 Syrian refugee children (7-17) living and going to school in Lebanon. Michael Pluess and his co-authors assessed for high sensitivity, childhood adversity, and intensity of negative war events they had experienced, from being unable to leave the house because of gunfire and knowing of friends’ homes having been destroyed to being tortured or seeing a family member killed. The question was, how would prior childhood adversity (e.g., having had parents who hit or neglected them, who fought with each other or screamed at the child, or having had abusive siblings, etc.) change the effect of war stress on children with various levels of sensitivity?
Differential susceptibility (that HSPs do better in life if they had good childhoods but worse with bad ones) and common sense might predict that with better childhoods, sensitive children would handle war stress better than non-HSCs. But they did not. If a child was highly sensitive, the better the childhood, the more PTSD.
Once you digest this result, I am sure you can think of several reasons for it. Basically, more sheltered HSCs must have found wartime events more shocking. This makes sense, given the difficulty for HSCs making transitions and dealing with overstimulation. In contrast, those with prior childhood adversity at home were used to hell. War was more of the same.
One might also wonder if the HSCs with bad childhoods had developed what is called an avoidant attachment style, taking the self-protective attitude that “I don’t need anyone—I can do fine on my own.” They detached early in their lives or were fully dissociated, so that maybe they did not fully feel new trauma.
Or perhaps dangers or injuries befalling family members might not have distressed them as much. It might have even oddly helped them—their abusive family members were distracted or might even be entirely gone from their lives. Meanwhile, the sensitive child with a happier family life would feel more dependent on their family members and fear more for their safety.
This study also reminds me of one of Israeli soldiers being studied for their likelihood of suffering PTSD. The researchers used the short serotonin allele (sometimes thought of as one genetic source of SPS) as a likely predictor of PTSD after exposure to battle. They found, however, that while soldiers with this allele were more distressed by training, in battle they were less distressed, or at least not as prone as others to PTSD. I have always imagined that during training they were very anxious about how they would survive and paid close attention to everything they could learn that would help them. Hence in actual battle they were a little calmer and more confident (and safer) than those who had not taken their training so seriously.
That could suggest that, similarly, maybe the HSCs with adverse childhoods had simply developed “street smarts” early and were not surprised or unprepared when things got even tougher in their lives. When bombs started falling, they had well-rehearsed ideas and skills about how to survive.
Bottom Line: That’s science. The question was, do HSPs with good childhoods suffer less PTSD from war? We might have thought the answer was yes, they were protected, but it was no. That answer opens up a dozen new hypotheses to test. Or just things to ponder with a more open mind–in this case, about what it means to be an HSC in this crazy world.
2. Predictors of Psychological Risk and Resilience Among Syrian Refugee Children
Meanwhile, hot off the press: Popham, C. M., McEwen, F. S., Karam, E., Fayyad, J., Karam, G., Saab, D., … & Pluess, M. (2022). Predictors of psychological risk and resilience among Syrian refugee children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
This study continued to look at Syrian children in refugee camps in Lebanon, this time 1,528, seeking to find out how children differed in their response to the trauma and ongoing difficulties in their lives. About 19% had only a few symptoms or problems, the rest did have significant difficulties. As we would expect, being highly sensitive was one variable that was associated with more symptoms. Note that this study was not looking at differences among the childhoods of highly sensitive children.
Bottom Line: As you would expect, in general being highly sensitive (not considering prior history as in the study above) is one risk factor for suffering from being a refugee, although the study shows that very few children do well in this situation.
3. Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Entrepreneurial Intention: The strength of a Weak Trait.
Harms, R., Hatak, I., & Chang, M. (2019). Sensory processing sensitivity and entrepreneurial intention: The strength of a weak trait. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 12, e00132.all
Harms, Hatak, and Chang have done research (using methods from business research) on those with the intention and sense of having the ability to start one’s own business (entrepreneurial intention). Previous research has associated entrepreneurial intention with a “heroic,” extraverted, not-very-sensitive type. However, these researchers found HSPs have also been found to have a strong entrepreneurial intention, being skilled at recognizing opportunities (depth of processing, aware of subtle stimuli, creativity, etc.) and motivated to be self-employed, so that they can manage their own energy and resources.
Bottom Line: This seems a perfect description of why HSPs can do so well running their own business.
4. The Sensitive, Open Creator; Sensitive Individuals are More Creative
Bridges, D., & Schendan, H. E. (2019). The sensitive, open creator. Personality and Individual Differences, 142, 179-185.
Bridges, D., & Schendan, H. E. (2019). Sensitive individuals are more creative. Personality and Individual Differences, 142, 186-195.
The first of these two articles reported a study involving 288 participants and finding sensitivity associated with several highly regarded measures of creativity, finally providing evidence (we never say “proving”) that HSPs are more creative, on at least some measures, than those without our trait. The second article is an in-depth review of similar research and an explanation of why sensitivity is a key overlooked factor in creativity.
Bottom Line: How nice to have this research to back up what we thought—HSPs are unusually creative.
5. Do Overwhelmed Expatriates Intend to Leave? The Effects of Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Stress, and Social Capital on Expatriates’ Turnover Intention.
Andresen, M., Goldmann, P., & Volodina, A. (2017). Do overwhelmed expatriates intend to leave? The effects of sensory processing sensitivity, stress, and social capital on expatriates’ turnover intention. European Management Review, 15(3), 315-328.
You may remember the lovely, charming, brilliant Maike Andresen from her appearance in the film Sensitive: The Untold Story. I visited her in Germany and taught for a day her students in the department of Human Resource Management at the University of Bamburg, Germany (one of the most prestigious in Europe), where she is a full professor and chair of the department. Her specialty is global careers and expatriation, and in this study, she looked at how being an HSP affected the “turnover intentions” (either to resign or a company’s intention to “let them go”) of employees working abroad.
The researchers found that HSPs were more often sent overseas on important assignments, but were higher on turnover-intention measures, with stress being the reason. Since organizations sent more than average numbers of HSPs to these positions, they apparently thought HSPs were especially suited for these jobs in other cultures (with their empathy, conscientiousness, etc.). Hence the conclusion was that more preparation and support, to help them deal with the stress, would allow them to be retained in these roles.
Bottom Line: How often HSPs are promoted into more responsible positions because of all their good qualities, but they exhaust themselves and/or perform less well than expected because the position as it is designed is too stressful for them. Wonderfully, Maike is saying, don’t give up on them, but prepare and support them better.