The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, and create— so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.
– Pearl S. Buck
In 1997, Elaine and Arthur Aron introduced the notion of the highly sensitive person: those who tend to have intensified experiences and responses to their surroundings. They concluded that about 15-20% of the population have this form of sensory-processing sensitivity, which causes them to become overaroused by intense sensory stimuli, such as strong smells, loud noises, bright lights, and strong tastes.
To measure this form of sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS), the Arons developed a 27-item scale. They found that those scoring high on this scale tended to score high on a wide variety of intensified experiences, from crying easily to having daylight sensitivity to loving intensely to remembering dreams more vividly.
Since the scale was created, a number of studies have been conducted on highly sensitive people. What is becoming clear is that there are different shades of sensitivity. This includes narcissistic sensitivity and moral sensitivity, but for this post I’d like to focus on the different shades of sensory-processing sensitivity.
Kathy Smolewska and colleagues identified three forms of sensitivity measured by the Highly Sensitive Person Scale: Ease of Excitation, Low Sensory Threshold, andAesthetic Sensitivity. Those who score high in ease of excitation tend to become mentally overwhelmed by internal or external stimuli, those with a low sensory threshold tend to experience unpleasant arousal in the face of external stimuli, and those scoring high in aesthetic sensitivity tend to have a greater awareness and appreciation of beauty.
Here are the test items so you can see where you fall on these dimensions.
Ease of Excitation
Do other people’s moods affect you?
Do you tend to be more sensitive to pain?
Do you startle easily?
Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short time?
Are you annoyed when people try to get you to do too many things at once?
Do you try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things?
Does being very hungry create a strong reaction in you, disrupting your concentration or mood?
Do changes in your life shake you up?
Do you find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once?
Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
When you must compete or be observed while performing a task, do you become so nervous or shaky that you do much worse than you would otherwise?
When you were a child, did your parents or teachers seems to see you as sensitive or shy?
Low Sensory Threshold
Are you particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine?
Are you easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by?
Are you made uncomfortable by loud noises?
Do you make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows?
Do you become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around you?
Are you bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes?
Do you seem to be aware of subtleties in your environment?
Do you have a rich, complex inner life?
Are you deeply moved by the arts or music?
Are you conscientious?
When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment do you tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating)?
Do you notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art?
Do you find yourself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where you can have some privacy and relief from stimulation?
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