What do we know about high sensitivity? Is there a relationship between personality traits and high sensitivity ?

Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) describes differences in environmental sensitivity between people, both positive and negative ones. In positive environmental contexts, highly sensitive persons tend to emphasize positive personality traits, such as a positive mood, higher responsibility, or adaptive responses to environmental stimuli. However, not inclusive or maladaptive environmental contexts could go in detrimental of these positive skills in people with highly sensitivity, having a negative impact in their psychological development and well-being. In fact, the highly sensitivity persons are not “weird” and they do not suffer from any disorder. Hence, highly sensitivity is not a disorder, the highly sensitivity is defined such as an intrinsic feature or personality trait that can manifest through a continuum from low to high sensitivity to the environment. In this regard, highly sensitivity individuals are more susceptible to sensory stimuli than others, but they have qualities that allow them to be able to “put themselves in the shoes of others” or show a greater amount of creativity.

Research about the high sensitivity has attempted to establish a characterization of the most common personality traits that are related to highly sensitivity. The main findings show that highly sensitivity is related to introversion, neuroticism or inhibitory behaviours. Introverts are usually reserved, independent, and prefer routine and family environments to unfamiliar contexts that involve high social exposure. People with high levels of neuroticism are characterized by being emotionally sensitive, with a high levels of emotional contagion from the environment, something that could result in the development of feelings such as anxiety, or worry, in different situations of daily life. Lastly, inhibitory behaviours are usually characterized by withdrawal in situations of high stimulation. Highly sensitivity persons are more susceptible to sensory environmental stimuli (touch, hearing, sight), so they tend to avoid high stimulus situations. However, at the same time, some previous research has found that people with high sensitivity develop more openness to experience, that is, the tendency to seek new personal experiences and conceives his future in a creative way. In any case, although the highly sensitivity is closely related to these personality traits, it has been shown to be independent and different from the above described personality traits.

The highly sensitivity must be considered as a trait (not as a dysfunction or a disorder). A deeper knowing the highly sensitivity and its relationship with personality traits can provide us tools and opportunities for developing the great potential of highly sensitivity persons. This information is essential to develop effective educative strategies, from the inclusion perspective, through which the strengths and positive qualities of highly sensitive people could be promoted. Only with the development of these type of educative resources we will make sure that people with highly sensitivity will develop adequately, promoting their own strengths.


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Rosario Ferrer Cascales, PhD

Rosario Ferrer Cascales, PhD

Ph.D. in Psychology. Full Professor in the area of Personality, Assessment and Psychological Treatment at the University of Alicante. Director of the Department of Health Psychology and of the Research Group Psychology Applied to Health and Human Behavior of the University of Alicante. Coordinator of the Educative Technology Innovation Group “Portal of Basic Psychology”.

Nicolás Ruiz Robledillo, PhD

Nicolás Ruiz Robledillo, PhD

Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Psychology at the University of Alicante (Spain). Graduate in Psychology with high honours. Master Degree in Developments in Research and Treatment in Psychopathology and Health. Master Degree in General Health Psychology. Ph.D. in Psychology with Extraordinary Doctorate Award.

María José Cabañero, PhD

María José Cabañero, PhD

Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Alicante (Spain). Ph.D. in Nursing: Practice and Education at the University of Alicante with Extraordinary Doctorate Award. Master in Nursing Sciences at the University of Alicante. Member of the research group “Quality of Life, Wellbeing and Health”.

María Rubio Aparicio, PhD

María Rubio Aparicio, PhD

Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Psychology at the University of Alicante (Spain). Graduate in Psychology with high honours. Master Degree in Methodology of Behavioral Sciences and Health. Master Degree in Teachers from Compulsory Secondary Education and Bachiller, Vocational Training and Language Teaching. Ph.D. in Psychology with Extraordinary Doctorate Award.

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