Highly Sensitive People

August 23, 2007 at 3:17 am (books, evolution)

I have been to busy this week to even think.  Between the onset of classes, squeezing in last minute experiments and getting a big presentation ready I have been completely fried.  I feel like my brain has melted, not unlikely in the desert heat.

I did read something while I was scarfing down lunch today that I found kind of interesting.  I am currently reading “Evolution for Everyone” by David Sloane Wilson.  I thought it’d be good preparation for dealing with snarky undergrads questioning evolution in the class I’m TA’ing.  Anyway, the chapter I was reading dealt with the evolution of personality, something which is certainly not limited to humans, but was first demonstrated in a diverse range of animals.  Wilson discussed the the personality type “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) – basically a person who is, as the name implies, very sensitive to stimuli.  As I was reading the description of the HSP characteristics, it was like a mental checklist:  that’s me, uh huh, that sounds about right, oh yea I do that, that’s not normal???  Things like being extra sensitive to bright light, loud noise, pain, clothing texture as well as drugs and caffeine.  It also includes people who are easily overwhelmed by to many things to do or by change.  Also, people who are easily startled and very emotional about art and music.  Wilson provides a link to a self-test.  I scored 22/27 – that’s high in case anyone was wondering.  Apparently 15-20% of the population falls into this group, so it is by no means abnormal.

I was often made fun of as a child because I would come downstairs after I had gone to bed to tell whoever was downstairs watching TV to turn it down, even if it was just at normal volume.  I am completely incapable of tuning out noise or light, which is why I pretty much have to have pitch dark silence to sleep.  I have never understood people who could read or study with the radio on – I wish I could do that!

So great, every little thing bugs me, how is that a personality trait that would have evolved?  Well, it turns out HSPs are very sensitive to their surroundings and have been historically better equipped to be aware of things (predators, food, weather, etc) which might affect their health and livelihood.  This is obvious when you think about it.  I mean who’s going to survive to pass on their genes – me, who wakes up with the first drop of rain, or my brother, who would sleep through a tornado?  Isn’t evolution wonderful?!



  1. rehull said,

    Hmmm… 23. I’ve always had issues with sleep… especially when a lot of stuff is going on and I feel like I’m going to forget something (making “lists” helps with this), or there is a problem that I haven’t solved and feel like I have to solve it before I go to sleep (while laying in bed) and then when I do solve it, I worry about forgetting the solution…. vicious cycle.

    “I have never understood people who could read or study with the radio on – I wish I could do that!” …me too! Kurt can do that though.

    I think Kurt could sleep through a tornado.

  2. mysterybea said,

    Who do you think that comment about “my brother sleeping through a tornado” was directed toward? Happy to have a fellow HSP in the family! I thought I was the only one!

  3. bosskitty said,

    OMG, 23/25 – I may as well jump off a cliff. Could this explain some of my eccentric behavior, as viewed by those in close proximity? Could this explain why I see concepts and trends when others think I’ve lost my mind, because they just don’t see what I see?
    I truly believe there are no acceptable answers for me, only choices based on acute observation & experiences. I’ve gotten accustomed to being labeled as too sensitive and over-reactionary. If there is a definition for my condition, I am grateful! Thanks for enlightening me. I promise to use this revelation responsibly …

  4. mysterybea said,

    This has actually been both informative and comforting for me to know just how many people are as irritatingly sensitive as me! And I’m certainly glad to have been able to let others know they’re not alone either – so go forth and be sensitive!

  5. nytexan said,

    Ok so I took the test only to find out that I am not human. I scored 3/25. I guess your brother and I would get along great.

    Please don’t be irritated with me.

    BTW: I did sleep through a violent thunderstorm that woke the whole city but me.

  6. rehull said,

    At least Kurt has me to wake him up in case of a tornado 😉

  7. rehull said,

    At least Kurt has me to wake him up in case of a tornado 😉 Oh, how jealous I am of his un-sensitivity!

  8. mysterybea said,

    I know, I’m totally jealous of people that can sleep through anything, and sadly, they seem to be NEVER jealous of HSP’s. You never hear someone saying, man I wish I would wake up every time a fly buzzes into my room.

  9. The (HSP) Princess and the Pea « Mysterious and Mundane Thoughts of a Little Bea said,

    […] my plethora of blisters. I brought it up here because it reminded me about the piece I wrote about highly sensitive people (HSPs). If there was ever an HSP fairy-tale character, it was this princess that noticed that pea. […]

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