More on Sensitivity

On the CNN Web site today there was another article about the study that came out recently regarding sensory perception sensitivity (yesterday I wrote about a similar article that appeared on the Livescience Web site). It mentioned a lot of the same information I had seen in the previous article, but included one new detail that surprised me. I had assumed that since those people found to possess the SPS trait exhibited many classic introverted behaviors, the two groups were almost one and the same. Not so, according to the researchers, who claim that about 30 percent of what they call “highly sensitive people” are actually extroverts.

The article also provided a link to a test that can help you determine whether you are prone to SPS. I scored almost embarrassingly high on the test, but my husband, who is also an introvert, scored well below me on the sensitivity scale (does that sound judgmental?). This fits with the idea that introversion and high sensitivity don’t completely overlap.

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8 Responses to “More on Sensitivity”

  1. Frustrated Introvert said:

    Hi Spectatrix. Thanks for providing the links. I actually stumbled upon the website for The Highly Sensitive Person sometime last year,and took the test then. When I realized that one of the links that you provided led to that same site, I was pleasantly surprised and I took the test again.

    Like you, I also scored high on the test. I took the one for adults and I also took the one for chuldren because I wanted to see what kinds of questions were asked to determine whether or not a child is an HSP. I thought back to my childhood and answered the questions based on that, and I scored high on that test as well. One of the answers that really stood out to me, because it was just so true of me, was the question about whether or not you feel uncomfortable wearing certain types of material, especially coarse fabrics. As a child, I always had an issue with wearing certain fabrics because of how uncomfortable I felt. I never liked to wear denim or scratchy sweaters and those were the types of clothing that my parents always ended up buying for me, so I had to suffer through it until I started picking out my own clothes. The only time I will wear a jean pant is if the denim is very soft. It just seems so strange seeing as how most people love jeans, but I won’t wear them for the most part.

  2. spectatrix said:

    Frustrated Introvert:

    That’s so interesting about the sensitivity to certain fabrics. I don’t have the same level of discomfort with coarse materials (in fact, I pretty much only ever wear jeans), but I remember when I was younger that I couldn’t stand to wear anything scratchy (i.e. wool sweaters) even though I loved them!

  3. James said:

    Hey Spectatrix and FI,

    As an introvert and a skeptic I think we need to be very careful with these sorts of stories. The first and most obvious thing that I see when reading these sorts of stories is to immediately start watching that I don’t fall into a Confirmation bias. This is not meant as a downer. All science these days is quite complicated at the edges and when dealing with the human mind you really should default to a wary point of view.

    Also any proper psychological test would take time, rigorous design, and be administered by a trained professional to have any chance of being accurate. This means I would not trust the results of any online test to tell me anything useful about myself.

    Doing a small amount of digging seems to suggest this does have some actual good science behind it but unless I was diagnosed by a trained and certified psychologist or psychiatrist I simply could not trust myself to be accurate and objective enough. Also the media are notorious in skeptical circles for blowing actual science completely out of proportion, like a small step towards helping treat a cancer being touted by the media as a cure for all cancer.

    As with anything. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. ;)

    And here’s a link to Wikipedia’s article on Confirmation Bias if you want to learn a bit more about it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

    And if you want to hear about medical stuff from a good science based point of view I would highly recommend http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/ It’s always my first stop when any medical topic starts up.

    Regrads, James

  4. Dana said:

    My Mom, a very strong extrovert, is quite sensory sensitive in ways that I, an introvert, never really understood until I began to raise my introverted son, who is Highly Sensitive. I have had a crash course, over the years, in sensory integration. So, from my own (admittedly limited to only a few people) experience, I find it much more believable that perception sensitivity is spread across a wide range of personality types.

    However, I would surmise that it is even more difficult for an extroverted highly sensitive person to cope–if the situations they get energy from, i.e. being with lots of people, are also situations that bring sensory overload more easily, I think that creates a different sort of tension than introverted sensory-overloaded people face.

    I haven’t read the links you refer to you yet, but I learned, with my son, that there are several different areas of sensory integration issues, and that any given person can be over or under sensitive in any of the areas. For example, my son is easily overloaded by touch and loud (or multiple) noises. His sensory balance system is also underregulated, so that he has a very difficult time sensing that he is “balanced” and is easily thrown off balance. I have another friend who’s son has the opposite sensory processing struggle with balance–he has to have constant movement (up and down, around and around) in order to feel “balanced”. He is sensory seeking when it comes to balance, whereas my son is sensory avoidant….

    It might not actually add much to this conversation here, but it is an area that continues to fascinate me. I did learn a lot myself, watching my son’s OT at work, as she helped teach him coping skills for the areas that he was naturally easily overwhelmed and overstimulated sensorily.

  5. spectatrix said:

    James:

    Thanks so much for this important reminder! I was going to write more about the “test” itself, but decided not to go into in the post. I was feeling some of the things you mentioned, that it was not very solid scientifically, but I did find it interesting anyhow. I think it would be better classed as a list of “symptoms” so to speak, since there was no attempt to alternate between questions pointing to high sensitivity, and questions that would indicate lower sensitivity. Also, since I had already self-identified as highly-sensitive, as I was answering the questions I was just confirming my suspicions! :)

  6. spectatrix said:

    Dana:

    Thanks for providing some perspective on the extroverted side of the equation, and on the diversity of how people experience sensitivity. This is a new area for me, so I really appreciate your insight!

  7. Kevin Carson said:

    It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder whether introversion, if it doesn’t actually belong on the soft end of the autism spectrum, isn’t at least related.

    Highly expressed introversion, like autism, seems to have a lot to do with the excitability of the reticular activating system and one’s information processing style.

    You have a lot of highly expressed introverts who — like high functioning autistics — have difficulty multitasking and carrying on simulataneous conversations, hate interruptions and distractions, melt down with excessive stimulation, etc.

    I test as a 100% expressed introvert with a very high need for space, and I find that high-functioning autistics’ self-descriptions of the stuff that bothers them resonate very powerfully with me.

  8. Morgen Jahnke said:

    Kevin:

    That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that much about autism, but from what you say, there does seem to be some similarity there.