• Why would HSPs care about research? Why should anyone care about HSPs and research? The short answer: when studies were done on "what everybody believed," some things turned out not to be true...especially about the highly sensitive person.

    Case in point: before you heard about Elaine Aron’s research on the highly sensitive person, did you know that…?

    … when raised in an enriched, supportive environment, those with this “differential susceptibility” are actually happier, healthier, and more socially skilled than others. 

    -Elaine Aron, Ph.D., Researchers find differences in how the brains of some individuals process the world around them, Stony Brook University 

    Happier, healthier, and more socially skilled!

    Even now, to hear or read many of the comments on the HSP no one would realize this. And since then, results similar to Aron’s have been found in other approaches and from countries around the world. 

  • Let's look at some of the ways research can help

    Consider that:

    1. Counting counts. To the degree that I can, I want to test my assumptions. Plus, there are times when we need to be precise. Can you estimate with accuracy? Suppose you leave home in the morning with $100. You make three stops and make a small cash purchase at each. At the end of your trip, can you estimate how much you have left without looking?

    For me, counting counts. I’m going to take all those fives and singles out and count them. I thought I had $35 left, and it’s only $18. Oops, I have only half as much as I estimated.

    Often our famous HSP intuition needs to be backed up with hard data. Many aspects of life require accurate results.

    2. Some topics are just too vast and complex to eyeball accurately. So here counting has to be done in a more sophisticated way. This is not the place for a treatise on statistics for the behavioral sciences. But did you know that Dr. Aron has co-authored a book on just that subject? 

    3. Some seeming connections or repeated sequences can give rise to misunderstandings or superstitions. Rituals before a sports competition may have no relationship to the outcome of the game. But, they can be quite effective in reducing players’ pre-game jitters.

    4. When something doesn’t work well, the few who got a good result may be more vocal than the many getting a poor result. People like to be able to claim their ideas and actions led to success.

    Those with a poor result may not be able to show that the recommended technique was the culprit...even if it was unsuited to their situation. If they complain, they will be accused of not trying hard enough.

    When you track the results overall, you may find that only a small percentage would typically get the desired result.

  • Nevertheless, some HSPs object to a fact-finding approach

    There are at least two main objections to research. That’s beyond the fact that to do it well requires many people, much time, and considerable money. Plus a background in statistics, and great patience in data collection and input.

    Objection #1: Data can be skewed to fit the desired conclusion.

    The researcher can, either deliberately or unconsciously, slant the data or write up the conclusions that support personal bias, self-interest, or company profits. An example would be a pharmaceutical company who submits a drug for approval using only two of the seven studies they’ve done, the only two where the drug showed a favorable result. 

    One way responsible researchers counter this is to take an “only time and the data will tell” approach. No single study is given much weight until it is replicated elsewhere with substantial numbers of subjects. In addition, study authors are often required to list any connection they have with the issue before their paper is published. And, efforts continue to make the research process more transparent and responsible.

  • Objection #2: Researchers unconsciously draw those subjects that fit their biases.

    This second objection that people have is that the researcher can attract only those subjects that will support his or her beliefs. There are several responses:

    The best research controls for a non-representative sample by looking at enough subjects, including people of all ages, ethnicities, education, and economic levels, to gather a sample that represents a population as a whole. In many health-related areas, there is much more to do in understanding how specific diseases, drugs, and treatments affect different population groups.

    Results are reported for what they are and only that. In contrast, this morning an online survey asked my opinion on an issue I found frivolous to begin with. Then it reported that 86% of those with little to do and lots to say held a particular opinion.

    This use of percentages has little meaning and can be misleading. It’s become increasingly important to draw a line between self-expression and data gathering. More recently, such surveys are gathering your data to sell to political campaigns.

    Results, where possible, are replicated by different researchers with differing perspectives. Or not. Unless there are similar results from other researchers, there may be additional factors influencing the outcome that need to be considered.

    We can stay alert to disconfirming information. Optimism has its place; this isn’t it. Reasonable, realistic optimism says that "If I both consult my feelings and collect the facts, I can make a better decision and expect a better result."

  • Opinions don't change facts

    Water, under most conditions, still freezes at 32 degrees. You are asked to control your biases and test your assumptions. Seek original sources of information instead of accepting the biases of those who may not be well informed.

    People often make choices based on the least important information because it is the most accessible. In searching for a doctor, the most important information is patient outcome. But the doctor is often chosen according to likeability, community connections, or appearance.

    Yes, I want a doctor who is a good communicator. But it's also important that I find an M.D. who is responsible, knowledgeable, highly skilled, and trustworthy. Does the patient recover? Are significant mistakes unlikely?

    I read the reports, the critics, and the debunkers. I track the researchers over time. Which of their ideas hold up? Who retains the respect of their colleagues? Whose work turns out to be genuinely helpful to me? To others?

  • Applying the results to your own life

    When you want to see how an idea works for you, it's a little like being your own researcher. The results of a study may describe the characteristics of a large group. But, you may be at the outer edge of that group. You may get even better results than average or none at all. You can only give a new approach a fair trial and then watch for the results...for you.

  • It was research that identified…finally…the HSP

    Many of us have found learning about our sensitive trait enormously helpful. It answers questions we’ve had since childhood. This new information was available only through research. Until now, the upside of being high in sensory processing sensitivity was unknown and unrecognized. The downside was regarded as a personal failing rather than a mismatch between the person and his or her surroundings.

    If you would like to know more about HSPs and research, you may want to read:

    Advantages of being an HSP—this post outlines ways that HSPs respond better to improvements in their surroundings and treatment than non-HSPs.

    HSPs and the orchid-dandelion hypothesis--this article explains that sensitivity to context has considerable and heretofore underappreciated benefits.

    Dr. Aron’s summary of studies on the highly sensitive person--she describes the studies in easy-to-understand language

    Happiness and the Highly Sensitive Person--this teleconference class is filled with ways to apply this new learning to your life, maximizing your strengths and bypassing HSP quicksand—easier to avoid than to get out of later.