The Simple Signs Of A Highly Sensitive Person

Up to one-third of people are ‘highly sensitive’.

Up to one-third of people are ‘highly sensitive’.

Up to one-third of people have particularly ‘sensitive’ brains, psychologists find.

People with this trait tend to pay more attention to their experience, which is what produces their sensitivity.

It also means they need time to reflect on their experiences.

Psychologists call this a sensory processing sensitivity (SPS).

People with a sensory processing sensitivity tend to agree with statements like these (the full list is below):

  • I have a rich, complex inner life.
  • I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.
  • I startle easily.
  • I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once.
  • I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.

SPS is a personality trait not a disorder or a condition.

In other words, it is just the way that some people are.

Sensitive people can be prone to emotional outbursts, procrastination, and withdrawal.

However, they also process things more deeply, have a greater appreciation for beauty, are more conscientious, have higher levels of creativity and deeper bonds with others.

Dr Bianca Acevedo, the study’s first author, explains:

“Behaviorally, we observe it as being more careful and cautious when approaching new things.

Another broad way of thinking about it, that biologists have been using to understand people’s individual differences in responses to different things, is that the person with high sensitivity will be more responsive, both for better and for worse.”

For the study, people who were shown descriptions of happy, sad and neutral events then asked to rest, while their brains were scanned.

Dr Acevedo explained the results:

“What we found was a pattern that suggested that during this rest, after doing something that was emotionally evocative, their brain showed activity that suggested depth of processing and this depth of processing is a cardinal feature of high sensitivity.”

Sensitive people demonstrated greater connectivity between the hippocampus and the precuneus.

This circuit is vital to how memories are consolidated and retrieved.

However, there were weaker connections in circuits that help people process and control their emotions.

This could help explain why sensitive people can be prone to overstimulation and anxiety.

One of the best ways of coping with being highly sensitive is to take a break, said Dr Acevedo said:

“For all of us, but especially for the highly sensitive, taking a few minutes’ break and not necessarily doing anything but relaxing can be beneficial.

We’ve seen it at the behavioral level and the level of the brain.”

Find out if you highly sensitive

To find out if you are highly sensitive, think about whether you agree with each of the statements below.

Agreeing with 14 of these statements suggests you are a highly sensitive person.

A positive answer means agreeing that it is at least somewhat true of you.

  1. I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input.
  2. I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.
  3. Other people’s moods affect me.
  4. I tend to be very sensitive to pain.
  5. I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
  6. I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
  7. I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.
  8. I have a rich, complex inner life.
  9. I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.
  10. I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
  11. My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.
  12. I am conscientious.
  13. I startle easily.
  14. I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
  15. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).
  16. I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.
  17. I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.
  18. I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.
  19. I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.
  20. Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  21. Changes in my life shake me up.
  22. I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.
  23. I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once.
  24. I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.
  25. I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes.
  26. When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.
  27. When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.

These statements are from the highly sensitive person test.

→ Read on: being highly sensitive is in the genes.

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychobiology (Acevedo et al., 2021).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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