Verified by Psychology Today

Highly Sensitive Person

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, is a term coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron’s theory, HSPs are a subset of the population 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 and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life.

Understanding High Sensitivity

The concept of high-sensitivity has gained traction in the years since Aron conceived of it, particularly as more and more people began to self-identify as highly sensitive. Overall, about 15 to 20 percent of the population are thought to be highly sensitive.

HSPs are 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 in which 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.

Living with High Sensitivity

Being a highly sensitive person can come with many challenges. HSPs may struggle to adapt to new circumstances, may demonstrate seemingly inappropriate emotional responses in social situations, and may easily become uncomfortable in response to light, sound, or certain physical sensations. On the other hand, HSPs often report that they form deep bonds with others, have exciting dreams and internal monologues, and find great enjoyment in art, music, and human connection.

Like all personality traits, there are pros and cons to being highly sensitive. With proper support and a recognition of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, HSPs can set up environments in which they can thrive.

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. Much like introversion and neuroticism, however, in the eyes of those who identify with the trait, high sensitivity can bring many challenges.

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. Similarly, high sensitivity may show up more frequently in those with autism or ADHD, but is distinct from those conditions.

Essential Reads
Recent Posts
Most Popular