Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Highly Sensitive Person

9 Core Qualities of Highly Sensitive People

Recognizing you're a highly sensitive person might explain a lot.

Key points

  • Being a highly sensitive person is related to introversion, but not the same.
  • Highly sensitive people struggle to stay on task when they have several different things to do.
  • Highly sensitive people easily sense when other people are feeling overwhelmed.
Source: microcosmos/Shutterstock

Studies estimate that 15-20 percent of the population is highly sensitive. However, many people don't know what this means. Although it's related to introversion, being a highly sensitive person is not the same thing. Highly sensitive people are hypersensitive to a variety of stimuli, ranging from pain to caffeine consumption. Consequently, highly sensitive people exhibit several specific, observable behaviors.

Adapted from Aron and Aron's Highly Sensitive Person scale, here are nine things highly sensitive people do:

1. They become overwhelmed when they have a lot to do.

Highly sensitive people struggle to stay on task when they have several different things to do. They become observably anxious, and as their stress level increases, they have more difficulty being productive.

2. They find noisy environments chaotic.

Highly sensitive people don't work well in open offices because their senses are put into overdrive by the sights, sounds, smells, and activity buzzing around them.

3. They get "hangry."

When highly sensitive people are hungry, they grow angry. They struggle to function and often take out their frustrations on those closest to them.

4. They choke when they're under observation.

Highly sensitive people perform at their peak when they're in private. Put them in a high-stakes situation, such as a presentation in front of their boss, and they're likely to perform poorly due to the pressure.

5. They're deeply moved by the arts.

Whether it's attending a musical or visiting an art gallery, highly sensitive people appreciate the arts: They find that expressions of creativity stir up their emotions.

6. They recognize other people's discomfort.

Highly sensitive people recognize when someone else needs the lights dimmed or the music turned down. They easily sense when other people are feeling overwhelmed.

7. They retreat when things become too overwhelming.

After a long day or a busy week, a highly sensitive person needs quiet time to recharge. A dark bedroom, for example, can provide the perfect space to recuperate.

8. They grow uncomfortable when there are loud noises.

Loud rock concerts and noisy fireworks displays usually aren't much fun for highly sensitive people—they have a lower threshold for noise compared to the rest of the population.

9. They avoid violent media.

Watching violent movies or playing graphic video games can be too much for highly sensitive people, so don't be surprised if, for example, they opt out of watching horror movies with you.

The Pros and Cons of Being Highly Sensitive

While many people warn against the dangers of being a highly sensitive person—like an increased risk of depression and anxiety—being sensitive isn't all bad. Highly sensitive people are more conscientious. They notice certain details others may overlook, and they can be very creative.

Being a highly sensitive person doesn't mean you have a disorder that needs to be fixed. It simply means that you process sensory data more deeply. Recognizing that you're a highly sensitive person could help you develop a better awareness of yourself and your needs.

This post also appeared on Inc.

More from Amy Morin
More from Psychology Today