Studying Sensitivity

A reader just sent me a link to a great article on the Livescience Web site. Although I find it annoying that the writer conflates shyness and introversion (one of my pet peeves), I found the main content of the article to be very thought-provoking. It describes a new study looking at the incidence of a genetic disposition to something called sensory perception sensitivity (SPS), which reportedly affects about 20 percent of the population.

Hallmarks of SPS include increased sensitivity to noise, crowds, caffeine, and a tendency to startle more easily. Also, “Individuals with this highly sensitive trait prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk…” While this sounds like the classic description of introversion, the researchers go further in their analysis, by looking at the underlying source of this behavior. They conclude that the increased sensitivity of those exhibiting SPS is the result of a preference to pay closer attention to one’s environment and experiences, a trait that could have evolutionary advantages in certain situations, in contrast to a “go-getter” attitude.

As I read the article, I found myself nodding a lot, and having little epiphanies about my own tendencies. Based on the description of SPS, I would definitely place myself in the subset of the population affected by it, and I appreciated that the researchers seemed to look at it in a positive light, instead of viewing it as a weakness. What do you think? Are you prone to SPS?

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6 Responses to “Studying Sensitivity”

  1. Frustrated Introvert said:

    Hi spectatrix, thank you for taking care of the commenting feature. After reading the article, I really believe that I have sensory perception sensitivity. The traits and behaviors that were listed in the article are ones that I have exhibited for as long as I can remember. I definitely need time to make decisions and hate being put on the spot to make a decision. If I don’t get enough time to think things through, I just don’t feel right about it.

    I also spend a lot of time just reflecting about my experiences and trying to make connections from those experiences. When I was little and into preteens, I was very sensitive and would cry at the drop of a hat. It never took much for the tears to flow. I don’t really cry as much any more, but I definitely tend to feel things deeply. I can’t watch certain television programs because they affect me too much. If my boyfriend is watching something that really affects me, I ask him to turn the channel or I just leave the room, until the show is finished.

    I really like these kinds of studies because they help to validate what some people feel and experience.

  2. spectatrix said:

    Frustrated Introvert,

    As I mentioned in the post, I saw a lot of myself in the SPS description too. And I can really identify with what you wrote about spending “a lot of time just reflecting about my experiences and trying to make connections from those experiences.” I’ve always done that too, and although it can get a bit obsessive (in my case), it’s definitely helped me become a better writer.

  3. Vicki said:

    Just found this website June 2010 and love it, plan on referring an extroverted collegue who frequently works with introverts so has already modified his interaction with improved communication. I reccomend -too loud too bright too fast too tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world by Sharon Heller PhD. It was good to view how I am beyond introvert especially since I aspire one day to find an high extrovert type I am drawn to but cannot sync with and have a commuterstyle committed marriage to satisfy the my need for aloneness and his work need to travel. ..

  4. spectatrix said:

    Vicki,

    Glad you’re enjoying the site, and thanks for sharing it with others!

  5. JNET said:

    Spectatrix,

    Thanks for sharing this article and writing on being an introvert. It seems that the mind and ways of an introvert is yet such a huge mystery. There are many types of introverts.

    I know I spend a good deal of time enjoying silence and solitude. I need to prep myself to join the masses by not seeing people for several hours beforehand or avoiding people to recover afterwards. My hearing is sensitive and I hear things that most people don’t. Things that seem obvious to me pass the attention of others. God forbid I have any caffeine… I feel, see and sense enough already to give me a lot to reflect upon and write as well.

    I am far from shy and also don’t like that people think introverts are shy. I tell people that I don’t talk to them… on purpose. And when I talk to them… its also on purpose. Small talk is mindless to me but writing a speech and performing it is easier… as long as I don’t have to hang out and talk to much with people :)

    Anyway… thank you again. So happy to discover your blog :)

    JNET

  6. Morgen Jahnke said:

    JNET,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on being an introvert. I think we have a lot in common!