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.
Chenxi Z says
I’m a student preparing to apply for a master’s degree in architecture, and I have encountered a very serious problem. Every time I open my drawing software, I feel a strong sense of inferiority (probably because I reacted very strongly to the teacher’s criticism in class before), which made me do nothing for half a year. I’m about to start applying, but every time I start working, all kinds of images that make me anxious flash up. I think that as an hsp, it is impossible for me to succeed in this application. But I’m really not reconciled.
Chenxi, you can overcome all of your self doubt and more. You need to seek support and guidance which is what I’m doing for similar issues that have patterned throughout my life. For myself, it’s been quite a journey. So far what’s especially helped me understand myself more is exploring the metaphysical realm. Reality looks a bit different to me know and I no longer hold myself to social standards.
Chenxi Z says
Thank you, I am also trying to struggle to do something I need to do
Hi, would you mind elaborating on what you mean about the “metaphysical realm?”
Probably much the same as spiritual, but she’s afraid ‘spirituality’ will put people off
Hi T, your comment caught my eye. I know that here isn’t really the right place to discuss this, but I wanted you to know your comment really struck a chord with me. I have long known I am an HSP, but only recently started experiencing a connection to things I can only explain as the metaphysical realm (I am seeing things very clearly during meditation). I honestly have no prior experiences with this, so it was shocking to me at first. It makes me wonder if HSPs are more easily able to do this? I have so many questions, do you happen to know of any good books or resources where I could learn more?
Hi T & C,
I found your comments because I was trying to learn as much as I can about HSP and C, your comment about vivid meditations caught my eye. I also get vivid images during mediations and wondered if it was related to HSP too. If you happen to find any resources, I’d love to know. Thanks for sharing your comments!
Hi T & C,
I have been looking for as much information on HSP as I can and I stumbled across your comments. I also have clear visual meditations and have wondered if it was related to HSP. If you do happen to any resources that may be of interest I would love to know about them. Thank you R
Brenda Simons says
Julia McKay says
So interested to read that there are genetic markers for HSP’s. How can we access that testing or information for ourselves?
Same! Looking forward to this info.
Yes! It would be great for us to get even further evidence of our trait beyond the questionnaire. How do we get access to the genetic markers?
Elaine Aron says
Unfortunately there is no simple, accurate genetic marker that can separate individual HSPs from those without the trait. Certain genes are associated with the trait, which helps with research, but not for “diagnosis.”
Thanks for this post and all the highly appreciated information.
In relate to this part of the comment; “Certain genes are associated with the trait” – What are those genes? Does Differential Susceptibility is genes related? And if it has a relation to the Orchid / Dendilin research?
TX in advance,
Hello Miss Elaine. I just finished your book but I could’ve swore I read something about hsps and addiction. And how we are able to fight off addictions more than nonHSPs? Is that accurate or maybe I read it somewhere else? I may have lost the page and now I can’t find it.
Sharon Erhabor says
It’s wonderful that you have explored cultural influences on displaying highly sensitive traits in Japanese. African American culture is one where you just shut up, be strong and take it, we don’t talk about our problems, and it is not tolerated if you are too emotional. I would love to see some research on how this culture affects highly sensitive African Americans so we can start to understand this and break this destructive cycle.
I agree. I’m surprised this hasn’t already been noticed and researched. Then again how many African Americans are on the research teams to bring it to attention?
Elaine Aron says
There is at least one facebook page for highly sensitive African Americans. Look it up. There’s no research so far on any ethnic or racial group. You have not been ignored more than any other group!
Tori Parker says
It took me quite a few years of wondering what was going on and why I was feeling just so much more deeply affected by all my emotions good bad all of it. I often wondered if anyone else felt this way or is everyone’s experience in life different from person to person.. it was my wonderful Therapist who intervened at one of the most critical times in my life. I was not coping well with life. I was drinking heavily. I was being reckless and got arrested twice before I finally found someone who could guide me and teach me the personal control and awareness that I desperately needed. 4 years and going. I still learn from her everytime we speak. I’ve been able to get out of my people pleasing ways and speak my truth and hold my boundaries. It was my therapist who mentioned with my level of awareness and high empathy that I’m very much an HSP. I can still recall the conversation and at first it did feel like a sting. Like sort of a lesser feeling than what I had been feeling… it felt much deeper than high sensitivity. I would always just say it was empathy I wasn’t sure until I read a lot about sps. And many videos on the subject. But now I feel HSP is perfect. Because it isn’t a negative trait. It has been the best thing for my life.
I’m really interested in the parapsychology of HSPs..
It’s so nice hearing that therapy has helped you and guided you to a better place in life. What type of therapy/counseling did you have? And I’m curious, why did it feel like a “sting” at first? Was it because it felt like an untreatable diagnosis or just not something you’d heard before?
I’ve checked in on your blog, done the tests and was curious to watch the Sensitive documentary.
I had to leave a comment here in the hope that someone is reading feedback, as the flashing imagery, fast and harsh scene transitions, use of camera lenses that made columns of buildings bend etc, made it completely unwatchable.
It is difficult to conceptualise how this was produced with an understanding of overstimulation being an issue for HSPs. I hope you will keep this in mind for future projects.
Deke Burnham says
This HSP absolutely agrees. For me it is UNwatchable. Thank you, LM, for putting the discomforts into proper words!
Elaine Aron says
I know. Will Harper, the director, comes from Hollywood and that is the style there. I think it has appealed to many, that super professional style, but not to all HSPs by any means!
I agree, it’s not a film for HSPs. To me, it felt like a propaganda film selling the idea to the general public. Getting the average person to think they have HSP.
Laura D says
The opening with the sound of screeching birds sent me into panic mode. Great way to show those that are not HSP what it feels like, but NOT great for those that are HSP. I immediately thought, “There should be a trigger warning on this!!!”
I came across this “personality type” on Tik tok and it perfectly represents me. I feel so comforted knowing I’m not alone for some reason Lol!
I must admit I’m a bit surprised that there was no relationship found between drug use and HSP/SPS people. I think of it like this, if you’re prone to overstimulation and overarousal, certain psychoactive drugs can calm the nerves and dull the senses bringing your stimulation “back to normal levels.” Like, if you’re overstimulated and you take a depressant, you’ll “calm down,” right? You’d think that would balance things out a bit and therefore be of interest to HSPs, no?
Elaine Aron says
But HSPs are also cautious, processing possible outcomes deeply, and therefore also have considered other effects of drugs–not being as clear minded after taking them and making a mistake (as when driving) or possibly becoming addicted. That is probably what balances out–some choosing the short-term gain, some preferring long-term safety.
Hi, I think the reason for this may be due to the extreme effect most medications/substances seem to have on HSP’s myself included. That pull to find relief from overwhelm can be very strong, but equally strong is the need to avoid anything that causes a negative sensory experience.
I was surprised as well, but each drug is so very different. Even the smallest amount of cannabis gives me debilitating anxiety and I can’t function. But psilocybe, acid, mdma have always been fantastic and made me incredibly content and happy.
Anne, I have similar experiences with cannabis, acid, and psilocybin. No experience with MDMA. It would be interesting to find out if it’s body chemistry, personality type, or maybe a combination.
Linda Lee says
I agree, Adam! I feel our sensitivities would make us great candidates for substance abuse! In my case, I eat more as a way of calming my intense emotions, which I’m trying to depart from.
I am also surprised at the research, clearly more studies are needed. I have a daughter who is highly empathetic and is an HSP with severe SP issues. She has struggled with addiction issues since her teens, and was a quiet child. I have no doubt she has used alcohol to numb the intensity of her emotions, at least in part. Thank you for having this site!
Silvia Foglini says
Buongiorno, esistono studi sulla possibilità di essere contemporaneamente Altamente Sensibili e avere insieme Sindrome di Asperger o altro dello spettro autistico?
O studi che dimostrano che le due neurodiversitá sono nettamente diverse e/o incompatibili?
Scott Gray says
Translated to English from Italian via Google translate:
Hello, are there any studies on the possibility of being Highly Sensitive and having Asperger’s Syndrome or something else on the autistic spectrum at the same time? Or studies that demonstrate that the two neurodiversities are distinctly different and/or incompatible?
Maybe someone has information on this here that does not speak Italian?
And thank you Silvia for sharing your thoughts here. My wife and I are planning a vacation to Italy this year, and are learning your beautiful language!
E grazie Silvia per aver condiviso i tuoi pensieri qui. Mia moglie ed io stiamo programmando una vacanza in Italia quest’anno e stiamo imparando la tua bellissima lingua!
About two years ago, through counseling I was told to explore being an “empath”. At first I rejected the idea but when I read more about it, my whole life suddenly made sense. I ran across the Highly Sensitive Person book just this week. I rate high which is no surprise. As I’m reading the book, I wonder how much my severe hearing loss saves me in situations? I also wonder if hearing loss has made me more sensitive in other aspects. Are there studies on this?
Item 2 above. In addition to being an HSP, I’m a people-pleasing middle child. Unfortunately I did not come to understand this until after my divorce. 🤦♂️
Julie C says
Hi Anne, the last I time I tried cannabis in a small amount of the candy I thought I was going to die , it was a horrifying experience all night long. My heart pounding, mind spinning, shaking, short of breath, omgosh!! People think I’m just nuts when I tell them that I cannot use cannabis to relax or for pain. Also was wondering what psilocybin is?
Hi Dr Aron- I wonder if you could share why HSP’s have difficulty performing while being watched and tend to be perfectionists? What is it about the trait that creates these characteristics? Is it something in particular in the nervous system? Thanks!
Hi Ive read some of yr books and think i fit some of these traits. Whenever i need to have a long medical with injections i freak out. Even if i try not to panic pain is multiplied alot for me. And ive always been told dont be shy, dont need to be so sensitive = which i wld feel insulted. Becos i would rather not be like that too. I do like seeing violent movies though, and yes i adore creative solo writing, and dreaming online
The cardiac-vagal tone! Have you heard of the Heartmath and their work with what they call coherence? They use biofeedback devices to allow people to learn to recognize heart-vagal signal relationships and incorporate it into meditation practice. I’ve partaken myself and it’s quite profound. Like some others here have mentioned I have abnormal reactions to cannabis (I scored as HSP), and have found an intrinsic attraction to metaphysical concepts and exploration. Thanks for the post!