It is nice to keep showing you the research. There is so much more of it now and it is so varied. If you want you can skim this easily, by just reading the titles of the studies and the “Bottom Line.” But enjoy the overall effect–the sense of the growing interest by scholars in this subject.
1. The Temperament Trait of Environmental Sensitivity is Associated with Connectedness to Nature and Affinity to Animals.
Annalisa, S., Francesca, L., Rachel, K., Liam, M., & Michael, P. (2022). The temperament trait of environmental sensitivity is associated with connectedness to nature and affinity to animals. Heliyon, 8(7), e09861.
In two studies, the higher the HSP Scale score, the greater the expressed connectedness to nature. In the first study, attachment to pets was also studied, and there was no difference on that between HSPs and those without the trait. I guess everyone loves their pets! The second study looked at “animal affinity” in terms of stewardship and protection of animals, and HSPs were higher on that. Again, both studies found the greater connectedness to nature.
Bottom Line: This is no surprise. HSPs do love to be outside and to be with animals. But now we have data to demonstrate it.
2. Genetic Sensitivity Predicts Long-Term Psychological Benefits of a Relationship Education Program for Married Couples
Pluess, M., Rhoades, G., Keers, R., Knopp, K., Belsky, J., Markman, H., & Stanley, S. (2022). Genetic sensitivity predicts long-term psychological benefits of a relationship education program for married couples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
It is well known that relationship-education programs can promote relationship quality and prevent divorce among married couples. Given how well HSPs respond to interventions (anti-bullying, resilience, development, etc.), the researchers wanted to see if HSPs would gain more than others from a high quality relationship program. In two studies, with 182 and 242 participants, they identified HSPs by the latest genetic methods, using genome-wide association. The higher the level of sensitivity as indicated by the genetic markers using this method, the stronger the effects of the intervention on almost all measures of relationship quality across the follow-up period.
Bottom Line: Once again we see that HSPs benefit more than others by high-quality programs and interventions (and probably books, online courses, therapy, etc.).
3. Sensory processing sensitivity and culturally modified resilience education: Differential susceptibility in Japanese adolescents
Kibe, C., Suzuki, M., Hirano, M., & Boniwell, I. (2020). Sensory processing sensitivity and culturally modified resilience education: Differential susceptibility in Japanese adolescents. PloS one, 15(9), e0239002.
Speaking of benefiting more from interventions, this study replicated with Japanese adolescents the study published in 2015 by Pluess and Boniwell showing that a resilience education program had far more impact on HS teenage girls than on girls without the trait. In this study, 407 Tokyo high school students (both boys and girls) were tested for resilience, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and depression before, right after, and three months after the resilience intervention. All students benefited, but the
HSPs, who scored significantly lower on well-being at the start, gained the most. In particular their depression dropped and self-esteem rose.
Bottom Line: Once again we see differential susceptibility and responsiveness to interventions. While differential susceptibility can mean being more affected by a negative environment, in this case simply being an HS adolescent, the good news is that with HSPs the negative can be more easily mitigated or avoided.
4. Environmental sensitivity and cardiac vagal tone as moderators of the relationship between family support and well-being in low SES children: An exploratory study.
Moscardino, U., Scrimin, S., Lionetti, F., & Pluess, M. (2021). Environmental sensitivity and cardiac vagal tone as moderators of the relationship between family support and well-being in low SES children: An exploratory study. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(9), 2772-2791.
Seven-year-old children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families were individually interviewed to determine how much support they felt they received within their family as well as to assess their physical and emotional well-being. Their sensitivity was measured by a series of tasks developed by the researchers. And the interesting variable in this study was cardiac vagal tone, a measure of how well the vagus nerve and heart are working together. The better the “tone,” the better a person handles stress. The children were divided into high, medium, and low sensitivity groups and measured for their cardiac vagal tone which, interestingly, did not differ among the groups. But HSCs with higher cardiac vagal tone and with low or only moderate support at home evidenced greater well-being than children in the same low-moderate-support family environment who were not highly sensitive.
Bottom Line: It is interesting that cardiac vagal tone is not associated with being highly sensitive, but it certainly helps HSPs to have it. Perhaps it can be developed.
5. Is Sensory Processing Sensitivity associated with psychoactive substance use?
Mary-Krause, M., Bustamante, J. J. H., Collard, L., & Melchior, M. (2022). Is Sensory Processing Sensitivity associated with psychoactive substance use? Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health, 100038.
Using data from 862 French adults, 25-44 years of age, researchers looked at the relationship between SPS, using the 12-item HSP Scale, and the degree of use of psychoactive substances, including tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and illicit drugs. High SPS was observed among 14% of their subjects. There was no association between SPS and psychotropic use.
Bottom Line: If you are asked (I often am) whether HSPs are more prone to drug use, you can say research suggests they are not.
The Big Bottom Line: These are such an interesting mix of studies looking for how HSPs might differ, from connection to nature to drug use to gaining more from interventions. These broad effects are because an innate trait like this is going to affect everything you do. So just keep enjoying the validation that this trait of yours is real and has some lovely effects.