Highly Sensitive Person

Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?

The Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, is a term originally coined by psychologist Elaine Aron in the 1990s. The idea has gained traction in the years since, particularly as more and more people began to self-identify as highly sensitive.

According to Aron’s theory, HSPs are a subset of the population—estimated to comprise approximately 15 to 20 percent—who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Those with high levels of SPS display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external or internal stimuli (like pain, hunger, light, and noise), and a complex inner life.

HSPs are also thought to be more disturbed than others by violence, tension, or feelings of being overwhelmed. They may, as a result, make concerted efforts to avoid situations where such things are likely to occur.

On the more positive end of the trait, high sensitivity is thought to be linked to higher levels of creativity, richer personal relationships, and a greater appreciation for beauty. As a result of her research, Aron and her husband, Art Aron, developed the Highly Sensitive Person Scale (HSPS) to measure sensory sensitivity in the adult population.

Is High Sensitivity the Same as Introversion?

Though highly sensitive people have been likened to introverts or those high in neuroticism, Aron’s theory maintains that the traits are distinct from one another. In fact, though high sensitivity most often overlaps with introversion, Aron argues that as many as 30 percent of HSPs are actually extroverted—though they may still be perceived by others as shy.

Much like introversion and neuroticism, however, in the eyes of those who identify with the trait, high sensitivity can bring many challenges. But it isn’t a mental health disorder; rather, it is defined, like other aspects of personality, as a trait that exists in each person to varying degrees.

While some comparisons can be drawn between Aron’s HSP theory and a condition known as sensory processing disorder, she and her collaborators do not believe that highly sensitive people have SPD.

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