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Saturday, December 20, 2014

What HSPs Can Give and Get from Animals and Babies

The Highly Sensitive Person

Back to Comfort ZoneJanuary 2007 : Comfort Zone ONLINE

What HSPs Can Give and Get from Animals and Babies

In observing and talking with many HSPs, I have learned how much our sensitivity helps us know what is happening in those who can not speak in words--animals, infants, those speaking in languages foreign to us, the elderly with dementia, the human body itself, and even plants. Because we can notice the subtle signs they give, we understand them better than others and that puts us in a unique position to help them.
But I also think that we gain from these interactions, not just in the usual ways of gaining a friend or being able to feel helpful, but also by being effective. Using our trait makes us enjoy and take pride in it. Reading nonverbal signs well also gives us a window into other realms of being. Again, all of this can make our sensitivity a great pleasure, something we always need to notice.
Sensitive as we are, practicing our nonverbal skills can also develop them even further, as when a person skilled at learning languages still has to study one in order to become fluent. And nonverbal skills are important. For example, a medical professor at the University of Arizona gives a course called "Medicine & Horsemanship: An Introduction to Human Nonverbal Interaction at the Bedside" just in order to make doctors more sensitive to the feelings of cancer patients and their families. He chose horses because they have especially strong emotional reactions. (It also must help that they are big enough to be threatening to a doctor behaving like a non-sensitive oaf!)
The instructor, Dr. Hamilton, said "Horsemanship requires the understanding of body language and sensitivity. There is no endeavor that will more quickly and effectively teach you awareness of your own body language and energy level than learning the principles of working with horses. You learn patience, gentleness and a method of physically relating to patients that is nonverbal, effective and powerful."
Of course most doctors are not highly sensitive, and I doubt they can be trained to be in the way that HSPs are. But there is also something learnable here, even for us. I am sure sensitive health care providers, gardeners, translators, and many others could tell you not only the benefits of being highly sensitive in general, but also of developing your sensitivity in your specific line of work. Indeed, I can't imagine any kind of work that could not be done better with both innate and attentively developed sensitivity. But I'd like to focus on animals and infants because everyone is or could be around them. They are the "line of work" of the human race.
HSPs and Wild Animals
You might wonder if I really meant that animals as well as infants are the "line of work" of humans. I do include animals, because we humans share the planet with millions of other animal species, so humans have had to evolve innate knowledge about animals. We also must come with an innate ability to learn additionally by reading nonverbal cues about those animals and animal species that happen to be around us, whether they are predators, prey, pets, livestock, or nasty insects. And I'm sure HSPs have always been the leaders in this.
Looking to the future, however, I am thinking this is our species' line of work because of something I read once--that we should think of other animal species as other nations or nationalities. As with human nations, we must learn to get along because we share the earth. It is the work of all humans to be good world citizens, but you might say that when thinking of animal nations, HSPs are naturals for working in the diplomatic corps!
Thinking of other species as their own nations helps us keep our own borders or boundaries, as when ants, ticks, flies, or cougars would like to feed on our bodies or our food. But more important these days, seeing these species as nations helps us respect their borders, letting them live where they have chosen or where they need to be. Since they are independent nations, we don't have to feed them, give them health care, or otherwise do what they can do for themselves, unless we have disturbed their "national life." It's like the "prime directive" in Star Trek: You can visit other societies, but leave them unaltered when you depart.
The fact is, however, that we have long ago passed the point where we live on the planet as if animals were our "national equals." Even wild animals have become our responsibilities because of our impact on them. I suspect that someday we will have on computer every individual of every species of the larger wild animals. Given the pressures on their habitats, we will decide which DNA should be preserved, which can die out. And I think many HSPs will choose to be involved in the fate of wild animals, as many are already.
Still it makes sense to think of animal species as independent nations in the sense that we can visit them, try to communicate with them in their language or ours, and grow from this contact. But we must be mindful of whether they want to communicate. In some cases it can be very rewarding for both, as when you "introduce yourself" to a bird in the wild and the bird responds and hangs around as if enjoying it. Or it can be dangerous for both. For example, in getting to know each other's eating habits--very often the main topic of conversation among all of us animals--we may unwittingly cause harm to one or both, as when bears start to eat our food or we become their food.
If you are like me, you often notice wild animals before others do. You like to be quiet out in the wilds and wait until they feel safe enough in your presence to begin to speak to each other again. If there is an opportunity, you like to try to communicate with them. You are also concerned about their habitats, because you hate to hear about extinct or endangered species. You want them to be out there, whether you are there or not. It expands who you are.
HSPs and Domesticated Animals
For good or ill, our ancestors bred many animals to be dependent on us. Further, in each generation a few wild animals are captured and made dependent on someone's care. Some can and do return to the wild, but as long as they are "ours," we are responsible for their welfare. I don't have to tell that to HSPs, but sometimes we have to tell it to others. We see an animal's discomfort more clearly than others do, or care more. Intervening is difficult, but often it's the suffering of animals (or infants) that forces us HSPs to be our most heroic.
Many HSPs speak of having a special relationship with one domesticated species--dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, potbellied pigs--or with their own particular "companion animal." Of course anyone can love animals, love their pets in particular, and feel they can communicate with them. But as I said, although I have no research comparing HSPs and non-HSPs on this, I think both the love and ability to communicate with them are much more common with us.
I also realize that many animal psychics and animal trainers have weighed in on the subject of communication with animals and the importance of sensitivity for success, so I apologize in advance if I am missing aspects of this subject that are important or obvious to you. But I have my own perspective, as I do find that I am able to communicate very well with animals--even a dog passing by on a leash, if our eyes meet. We acknowledge each other and I know the dog's general state of mind. Does the dog know mine? It seems to. I do not think of this very often as psychic, but rather as nonverbal, often unconscious or preconscious. It is intuition, in that I know some things about an animal without knowing how I know it. And many HSPs say the same.
As I said before, there is a give and get in this. Being sensitive to the animals around us can benefit them--not just their physical well being but their mental health, too. And it benefits us by connecting us with individuals who are generally sensitive, subtle, discriminating, and loyal to their friends--like most of us.
Animal Intelligence
HSPs are often thought to attribute more to animals than is there--more intelligence, insight, intentional communication, emotion, suffering, and all the rest. Well, it is there. For example, I think most HSPs appreciate that each species has its particular forms of intelligence. Some can read scents especially well, others see (and understand what they see) better than we do. Some can even read the meaning in the vibrations of the earth or its magnetic fields.
The horse I ride finds my intelligence very low when it comes to dangers that might be around the next curve in the trail. I am oblivious until she "says" with her rigid and trembling body that has refused to move forward, "There could be a cougar waiting for us, stupid. What about that sound you don't even hear?" And later she may also want to say, "And while we are on the subject of your lack of intelligence, you sure can't do much with your muzzle. Hardly have one. I can tell everything about a person with a few nuzzles, lip feels, and whiffs."
We humans can get awfully huffy ourselves about intelligence, even with our fellow humans, with all our obsessing about IQ. In our culture intelligence means abstract thinking--using symbols and testing hypotheses. But other animals, and other human individuals and cultures, do not specialize in that kind of intelligence. What about intelligence regarding spatial relationships or tool use, and what about intelligence in the form of sensitivity and intuition?
What about teamwork? Look at how well dogs can work with humans. But it is not just the human being who is so smart. Predators that work as teams are able to read each other's signals and devise strategies, such as when to circle and close in, or where to position themselves over miles in order to tire prey with a fresh pursuer. Sheep dogs simply trade the alpha male for a shepherd, showing the same ability to grasp the lead "dog's" plans.
Yes, abstract thinking allows us to test out ideas in our minds and choose the best one, and it certainly seems like in domains important to them, wild canines (to stay with my example) can formulate abstract plans, test alternatives, and apply them in new ways. That's pretty good. But we think of most other complex, adaptive animal behaviors--such as knowing how to build a good nest or navigate by the stars--as merely innate, instinctual knowledge. It's not "real" intelligence because it isn't conscious and flexible. Yet either way, knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Humans would not be very smart if they had to learn everything new in every generation. Our information is simply passed down through culture and language more than through DNA.
On the other hand, we are learning that other primates have remarkably more of our idealized form of intelligence than we first thought. They can apply an idea to a new situation, take another's perspective, "lie," understand fairness, remember highly complex social relationships for years, communicate complex ideas to each other and to us when we teach them a language, and of course the big one, they can invent tools.
Dolphins and whales also show remarkable intelligence of the human sort. Indeed, there is evidence that dolphins may have a more complicated language-intelligence than we do. They have more space in the brain for it. And it has been impossible for us to learn their language because they talk about objects without the object being present, just as we do—a sign of abstraction. And they cease to have an emotional reaction to it being mentioned after they realize the object is absent, just as we do. That is the complicated message in the saying "never cry 'wolf.'" We humans can and do say wolf when one is not around, and if that is what you are doing, after awhile others will not respond.
Most people do not know that certain species of birds, especially those in the raven family (e.g. ravens, crows, and blue jays) and the various parrots, also display intelligence much like that of primates. Interestingly, their brains are quite different, so their abstract, human-like intelligence evolved along a separate line. Intelligence really is not the special domain of the great apes.
I suggest you learn more about animal intelligence and communication for your own enrichment. It also will help if you have to defend these other nations. You probably don’t want to be categorized as an animal rights' "extremist," but I always point out that we are not talking only about animal rights. Anything cruel we do to an animal seems to mean we are never far from doing it to those humans whom someone has declared to be "less than human." Think of "horse whipping," cattle prods, and cattle cars.
Emotional Communication
HSPs have stronger emotional reactions than others, and also are affected more by others' moods. This makes us more like other animals and better able to communicate on their channel, which is mainly emotional. We sense what pleases, scares, or angers them, and we notice when they have sensed our emotions. A highly sensitive rider, for example, knows all too well how quickly fear passes back and forth between horse and rider.
Emotions are automatic responses that get us moving in circumstances that have been judged--often very quickly and usually by evolutionarily older parts of our brain--to require a strong response of a particular type. So we can rather automatically do everything involved in being angry, afraid, or whatever. The judgments to display that emotion are often as built in as the response. Something in us just knows, "Be careful, you're on a cliff." "Watch out for that snake." "Don't you dare hurt my baby." "What's that? Let's go see." "Don't cross that line or you're lunch." "Relax, the others are back." Emotions really are a form of intelligence, and a form much older than abstract-frontal-cortex intelligence.
Emotional life took a great leap forward with mammals (and birds, along a separate evolutionary line), probably because mammals raise their young in such an intimate way, and they usually live in groups. So not only do mammals show fear, anger, sadness, curiosity, contentment, disgust, and joy, but also the social emotions of pride, shame, guilt, grief, compassion, fear of abandonment, dread of banishment, joy at reunion, and so forth. They also have a wide range of built-in emotional reactions that arise in their various social bonds--as parent and child, mating or child-rearing partners, and friends. For example, when very young mammals are separated from their parents, they react with several strong, automatic emotions. In humans there's a loud protest, hopefully bringing the parent, followed by deep despair that amounts to giving up, which saves their energy. And romantic love can give rise to all the emotions--fear, anger, elation, sadness--and yes, animals do fall in love and can suffer as we do when that longing for the other is thwarted.
Emotions do more than energize an individual. They also energize and communicate to others, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. Animals, including humans, are designed to be sensitive to the emotions of others. There's information there, but also an urge to feel the same. We look down on this, calling it giving into "mass hysteria." But look at it as prey animals do, or domesticated animals that were once prey. Zebra, antelope, and horses, as examples, evolved to be extremely sensitive to emotional communication from others. If one of them is afraid and starting to run, it is wise for the others to do the same. Or if one is angry and ready to fight back when cornered by a predator, it helps if they all feel the same. Horses much prefer to go out on a trail ride without another horse. Otherwise, they are stuck relying on the emotional reactions of their rider for additional information.
Predators also have to know the emotions of their prey as well as of each other. Humans, who have been both prey and predators, tend to have all of these characteristics.
Alas, many people mistake the quick emotional responses of animals for stupidity. But we are not receiving all the information that they have, or are not processing it through the same innate concerns. Very few dogs are born randomly vicious, but being predators, they can quickly lunge and bite something they should not. They do it because some sort of cue was there that told them to make their move.
Cats are not "lazy" because they sleep so much (so do lions) or "scaredy cats" when they hide themselves. These behaviors evolved--they are a form of very old intelligence.
Horses are very often scorned as stupid because they are very afraid of anything new, of walking close to anything such as the fence around a riding ring, of flapping things that brush their bodies (it might be prey leaping at them), of having their feet not on solid ground, and so much more. But they can plan rather nicely--when my horse sees me coming, she does her elimination in the pasture so she does not have to in the stable area or on the trail. These animals are NOT dumb and are not making stupid responses. They just have different concerns.
Facial Expression and Speech
Darwin showed that the same facial expression is seen for the same emotion in many species, especially primates. It's easy to see fear, anger, pain, curiosity, surprise, and so forth being expressed in some way by most animals. And it's true of social emotions too, although maybe only HSPs can see when an animal is ashamed--for example, a dog or cat in a silly costume. Or see them glow with pride, when a dog is freshly groomed or a cat brings in a mouse. Then there's their disgust when you make the same mistake over and over--I can see that in the raised head and glowering eye of my horse friend when I do something clumsy around her. And she expresses disagreement with a vigorous shake of her head, should I choose a route not to her liking. We who are sensitive are not imagining these communications, even if most people do not notice.
Of course animals do communicate through sounds, but rarely through words found in any human language. We have to translate those sounds. When annoyed my horse snorts; when pleased she blows loudly through her lips, making that sound children try to imitate when playing horse. Again, I suspect HSPs are able to notice more of these meaningful sounds and also can make more and better sounds that communicate back.
You and Animals
HSPs with any fondness of animals should get to know as many as possible, as intimately as they can safely do. Perhaps the first signs to learn, and the easiest for HSPs, are those that signal that an animal wants nothing to do with you right now. We know all about needing to be left alone, and we are also sensitive to signs of rejection. The rest the animal will help you with.
Still, each animal species has unique communication signs. You can learn these from keen observation, chatting with someone familiar with the species, books, or DVDs. You will also need to know the species' evolutionary history and details of how they lived in the wild. Above all, you will want to observe the personalities of the various individuals (they vary considerably) whom you meet. You will be drawn to some more than others--often to the sensitive ones.
As you know better than anyone, in every species some animals are more sensitive than others. The sensitive ones are slower to approach you and are very sensitive to touch. As a horse trainer showed me about sensitive horses, their skin is actually about five inches out from their bodies. (How far out is yours?) You'll know by how the horse behaves when your hand has approached that invisible outer skin. Reach inside that without warning the horse and you'll see a strong reaction.
Sensitivity in each species may look a little different, but you want to be able to recognize it as a trait, and to distinguish it from fear due to past abuse. At first meeting, sensitive animals hang back but look curious and meet your eyes as an equal. When they get to know you, the two of you are friends for life. An abused animal will look afraid, avoid your eyes, and slink up, looking submissive. And you have to go through this over and over. It is surprising how many people cannot see the difference and call sensitive animals fearful. There's a familiar story.
One other point, so you aren't surprised: If two or more social animals live together, they will have a hierarchy. When it is forming or shifting, they squabble a lot. When it is settled, the top animal may insist on taking whatever you have to offer, be it food or attention, and not allow the others to have any. Do not be disillusioned if you see what looks like "selfish" behavior. It's perfectly normal. These hierarchies serve many important functions. You can deal with it in various ways, but one of the easiest is to accept it as it is. You can still greet them all. And you can arrange to interact with an animal when others in their group are not around. Trying to feed the "poor beast" not getting anything may lead to it getting far too much in the way of aggression.
Potential Friends are all Around You
You do not have to have a pet to get to know animals. Neighbors often have pets that they would love to have walked or watched when they are away, or you can just visit when you pass them. Cats are often all over the neighborhood and quite sociable when you know their language. (I draw the line at city rats, although when I saw one in a Manhattan health food store, my husband was surprised that I was not more pleased at discovering some wild life in my neighborhood.) I know people who have developed interesting acquaintanceships with squirrels and ravens as well.
If you are in the suburbs or country, animals are often in nearby pastures. Horses usually love attention and a chance to communicate (except the cynical ones kept in stables too much or rented out to strangers). If you bring them apples and carrots or pick them better grass than they have inside the fence, they will come right to you of course. But I prefer to wait for them to come to me without bribes. Animals are curious (if they have not become fearful), so that is often enough to bring them to you. Then the "conversation" can be a little more far ranging than "do you have any more of that or if you don't would you please get some?"
How do you introduce yourself? Begin by thinking about the mood you are in, because animals will sense it. Usually you want to be in a good mood, although some animals love to comfort troubled humans. Most like to be talked to, in our speech or theirs. They also like to be touched--it is part of their language-- if you obtain their permission and know how to do it in ways that please them. Touch communicates a great deal to animals about your feelings. They especially like certain places scratched or rubbed. Most also like to be groomed if you take the trouble to learn how they like it done. And they like to play--the young ones or the young-at-heart sorts especially. But you probably know all of this.
Don't be limited to pets. Livestock are equally interesting and smart. For example, pigs being raised for meat are often kept in indoor group pens with heaters they can turn on themselves when cold by leaning on a lever. So the pigs take shifts during the night, each doing it for the others for a while. I'm sure a pig would enjoy meeting you. I became familiar with an entire herd of beef cattle--the personalities of each and what each wanted me to know about them. I would talk to them as a group, and then chat with my particular friends. They seemed to enjoy my visits. Of course they were gone one day...
The point is, animals are all around us. They do not know if you do not own them. They may have their first loyalty and strongest bond with someone else, but we all like to have other friends as well as our best friends, and animals like it, too. The only exceptions are those who have grown cynical about humans because of having seen too many come and go, are afraid of strange humans because they usually arrive only to hurt them, are furious with our entire species, or very busy with their other animal friends.
In sum, animals are worth knowing. And equally important, if you take the time to observe and communicate, your sensitivity will be sharpened in this important domain.
HSPS and Babies
Much of what goes for HSPs and animals goes for babies as well. They have their rights to their own boundaries, which HSPs can especially appreciate. As with animals, we can sense their extraordinary intelligence and nonverbal ways of communicating. They want to make friends, and we are innately interested in them, too. They like to be touched and they like to play--easy for an HSP to do well. Each has a unique personality, so that you are bound to hit it off with some better than others, the sensitive ones in particular.
All humans are designed to communicate with babies--to be interested and responsive, to coo and make baby talk. Humans do the same silly things with babies all over the world. It helps babies and adults bond and prepares the babies to learn their home language. But I am certain HSPs, men as well as women, are better at this communication. You will be surprised how quickly it comes to you, especially if you are not feeling self-conscious because of those around you. And don't try to imitate the non-HSPs' loud baby play. We do it differently. For example, babies sitting on the floor and playing love humans who are doing loud and crazy things. But they seem to like just as well someone quietly watching them, giving them something new to do when they are bored, but not interrupting or over stimulating them.
A Very Short Course on Babies
Learning just a little about babies makes you a far more effective friend. Tiny babies are newborns, and you'll find them either asleep; having a brief, quiet, alert time; nursing; or crying their lungs out. They cry so much because they are really in their "fourth trimester." They ought to still be in the womb, but because we humans come with such big heads (in more ways than one), we have to be born before we are fully ready.
Even before you know you will be meeting a newborn, watch the video by Harvey Karp called "The Happiest Baby on the Block." Don't try to read about this. You must see the video, which is probably found at most libraries. This doctor has figured out nonverbal communication in his line of work, and his video has revolutionized the parenting of newborns. I am not exaggerating. The first three months can be agony for parents and infants. But this video could turn even a not-at-all-sensitive bachelor truck driver into an expert at soothing crying infants. As for HSPs, it can make us into parenting Einsteins. But the point is, there are still things to learn about how to communicate nonverbally, even for the highly sensitive.
More information: Some human emotions "come on line" later than others. An infant's general negative emotion, expressed by crying, does not divide into anger and fear until about two months. A cry is a cry. Most babies are smiling and communicative by three months. They can sit up on their own around then too. At about six months they begin to want only certain familiar people to hold them. Even if you were holding the baby a month earlier, you may find you are not on the list any more until you are around and trying to communicate for a few days.
Real locomotion arrives around eight, when they start to crawl. Imagine how it must feel to be able to go where you go, more or less, for the first time. At about a year, they walk or are trying to walk. This is when they are the most trouble, in a way. They sleep less. They are into everything. They want to walk but are too slow. You pick them up and they are too heavy. This is an age when you can really help a parent just by entertaining a child in the grocery line for a moment when he or she is on the verge of fussing out of sheer boredom, or offering to carry a bag so the parent can carry the child.
They do not start to really talk until they are two years. But they understand quite a bit before then, so it is best to assume they do know what you are saying. And at every age they like to be talked to. It doesn't have to be silly talk. Babies also seem to like seriousness. My grandson will not take his eyes off Grandfather Art when he's on the phone giving a lengthy explanation about statistics to a student.
One value of knowing all of this is that when you see a baby in one of these stages, you can start to gain a mother's confidence by, for example, saying to one with a crawler, "Oh, must be about eight months, hey?" The more babies you see, the better you will become at guessing ages and other important baby miscellany that impress mothers. But try to avoid saying the baby's gender until you hear it. Some mothers can be insulted by a gender miscall--we humans are so touchy about gender.
Babies as Good Friends
Do not be limited in your friendships with babies just because you are not a parent or a close relative of one. There are always babies around--on airplanes, in restaurants, or at your neighbor's. If they are awake, they generally make themselves known. And parents are often very glad to have someone to hand them off to, once they trust you. Next time you are seated near a mother on a plane with a nine month old crawling all over her and wanting to get down in the aisle, don't wish you could change seats. Consider this to be an opportunity. Make some funny facial expressions or play peek-a-boo. You will quickly have two friends.
I hope you have a baby whom you can expect to know over the years as well--one you particularly love. That way you can watch all the changes. In a year a newborn becomes a walking, sort-of-talking person. From there, it is only about ten years--only ten--until they are for conversational purposes adults. The effort you put in over the years will pay off. There may be a period during adolescence when you are just a dopey adult, but around twenty seven there's a dramatic change and age becomes far less relevant. If you meet an infant when you are thirty, in twenty-seven years, you'll be fifty-seven. A twenty-seven year old and a fifty-seven year old can easily be friends. So a baby is just a friend who has not grown up yet.
Clearly I'm writing mostly for HSPs who are not parents. I'm especially thinking as I write of sensitive men. Sensitive men make amazing caregivers of infants. Whether the child is sensitive or not, when the mother is not an HSP, it is often the sensitive father who can resolve situations just because he senses better what is going on at the moment. But any sensitive man can built a strong rapport with an infant, once he has gained the parent's trust and learned some rudimentary skills.
Gaining a close connection to a baby is a very rewarding enterprise, for you and the baby. For you, it will both develop your sensitivity and make good use of it. For the baby, you will be an adult who truly gets this little being. So start looking for a baby friend.
As for sensitive babies, often it requires a sensitive man or woman who is not a parent or even a relative to spot the sensitive ones and fully understand them. Sometimes by meddling just a little you can make a great difference in their futures. Maybe mention high sensitivity and that it's normal. You have it, as do many successful people. But it can be tricky raising a sensitive child unless you understand what's going on. Then maybe you give the parents The Highly Sensitive Child.
So I can't resist ending with "It takes a village--with some HSPs in it--to raise a child." Another reason we are here.

February 2006 Articles:A Letter from Elaine Latest Research : What HSPs See: Our Brain Is Not as Easily Confused by Culture and Context
HSP Living: What HSPs Can Give and Get from Animals and Babies
Book Review : Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior - by Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson, Harvard University Press, 1998

Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? What You Need to Know About the Science of This Personality Type


Up to 20 percent of the population exhibits a trait that sets them apart. Scientists are finding out why.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Psychologist Elaine Aron has pioneered the study of a category of human personality that is generating considerable buzz both in the media and in the scientific community: the highly sensitive person (HSP). People in this group look the same as everyone else, but they don’t respond to the world the same. The way they think, work, feel, and even love is distinctive. Tendencies like acute awareness of emotions, heightened response to loud noises and other stimuli, and the deep processing of information are all things that set HSPs apart.
Want to know if you’re an HSP?  Take this online test developed by Aron and her husband, a fellow psychologist. Aron reckons that up to 20 percent of humans on the planet are highly sensitive, a trait that is found in animals, too. I spoke to Aron about what science has to say about HSPs, and how understanding how their brains are encoded may help society to better accommodate these people and make use of their considerable gifts.
Lynn Parramore: Research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to high sensitivity. What scientific methods have been used to investigate?
Elaine Aron: There are two studies. One used was the more common method of looking for an association between a genetic variation and a personality trait. That is to take one candidate gene that we think is important for the personality variable; in this case, sensitivity. The candidate gene was a variation in the serotonin transporter gene, what is called the short-short variation, which refers to two short alleles, as opposed to one short and one long, or two longs. The short-short variation had been inconsistently associated with depression and other problems. It was seen as creating vulnerability. But many people with this genetic variation are not depressed, so researchers began to question their understanding of it, and found in numerous studies that it actually bestows many advantages. It only caused trouble when carriers had had a stressful or unsupportive childhood, or else, in some cases, were immersed in stressful life events.
This led, along with some other studies, to the whole subject of what is called differential susceptibility. People with this gene, or with certain behaviors, such as cautiousness or physical or emotional reactivity —all signs of sensitivity — do better than others in good environments and worse than others in bad ones. That’s an important concept for us. It’s mostly been studied in children, and if they have grown up in a supportive environment or there’s an intervention to help their parents raise them, they actually turn out better than other children in social competence, academic performance, health  — all kinds of variables have been looked at. It’s becoming a very popular thing to study. If children don’t have that supportive environment, then there’s depression, anxiety, and shyness and all of that. So sensitivity does not lead to vulnerability. It leads to differential susceptibility.
In the meantime, in China, some researchers were looking at sensitivity that other way, by looking at many genes at once to see which ones if any are associated with the variable of interest, in this case sensitivity. They chose high sensitivity because until then studies were finding unexpectedly low associations between genes and personality traits, such as introversion or neuroticism. That was surprising, because we know that a large percentage of personality overall is contributed by genes. We know that from comparing fraternal and identical twins. But we didn’t have a name for what those traits were that were encoded in the genes.
So these people in China looked at my Highly Sensitive Person scale and said, well, this seems to be deeply rooted in the nervous system. So they did the entire genome mapping of anything to do with dopamine. There are quite a few different dopamine genes, and they boiled it down to seven. And these gave a result more like what one would expect, given that we think personality is partly encoded in the genes. So what we are describing as high sensitivity is probably close to describing something that is actually genetically coded, in this case in seven variations of genes affecting the creation and transportation of dopamine.
We don’t know yet how those dopamine genes affect behavior. They’ve never come up before as being important for personality. These genes may reduce dopamine, or use it in a particular way that’s unusual. So the point is sensitivity is probably created by a number of genes, perhaps tending to be inherited together as a group. Or it may be that sensitivity has evolved along different routes, because if it’s a survival strategy — and it’s been found in over 100 species and probably exists in more —it may have landed in our species through several routes. Or there may be slightly different kinds of sensitivity, but not so different that the HSP scale [the test developed by Aron and her husband] doesn’t tap it.
LP: What evolutionary benefits might be associated with having this trait?
EA: Max Wolf, a scientist in Europe, did a computer simulation that did a very nice job of explaining why sensitivity had an evolutionary advantage. We knew that it had to because it’s found in such a large minority of people, 20 percent. It would have been eliminated long ago, or it would have been found in only a very small percentage of people, if it had no advantage.
Wolf did a computer simulation, kind of like a game, in which you had the choice of either noticing everything in every situation you encounter and using that information in the next situation you encounter, or basically assuming that your next encounter will be nothing like this one and not bothering to notice anything at all. In many situations, the next situation has nothing to do with the previous one at all. Other times there is a relationship. The simulation also assumes, rightly, that there’s a certain cost to having the more complicated nervous system of a sensitive person or a cost to using energy for paying attention to things. 
So there has to be a payoff at the other end.  Manipulating the payoffs and the costs in various ways demonstrated that it didn’t require much to make it pay to be highly sensitive.
But Wolf also made the interesting observation that the game doesn’t work if everyone is sensitive. His analogy is if there’s a patch of good grass, and every animal noticed it or smelled it or however they find it, then it wouldn’t be any advantage to any individual to carry this genetic variation. I joke that if I’m in a traffic jam and I notice a shortcut, it’s only useful to me as long as nobody else takes it. If all the other cars notice me turning and they follow me, then there’s no advantage to my noticing another way. There is now just as much traffic on my route as the other routes. The point is that we [HSPs] are invisible for a reason. All of us aren’t skinny. All of us don’t have curly hair or we’re not all left-handed or something that would make it easier to identify us.
Many people have thought about how it’s helpful to a particular species to have this trait. I think it’s kind of obvious in humans that some people spend more time reflecting — I use the term DOES: these people exhibit depth of processing (D), they are easily overstimulated (O), emotionally reactive and empathic (E), and sensitive to subtle stimuli (S). The only disadvantage is being overstimulated, which is the cost to us of being highly sensitive. But the rest of it has benefits. Yes, being emotionally reactive can be difficult, but it actually helps to motivate a person to think more!
LP: What implications does the science have for people who are highly sensitive?
EA: In the short run, HSPs need to see the research in order to believe the trait is real. Believing it is real can be difficult, because it is invisible and because the majority don’t have it, so we often grow up thinking, well, I should be behaving like everybody else. Or I shouldn’t be overstimulated right now. No one else is. I don’t know why I’m so tired. Why do I notice these things that other people don’t? Gee, I really have this great idea but nobody else really gets it. I’m pretty sure we should do this but nobody else seems to see why. Should I insist? No, I won’t, because I don’t want to make people mad. Now it turned out to be a mistake, and I knew it would be a mistake. So all of that self-talk makes us squash our sensitivity, especially men (there are equal numbers of highly sensitive men and women), and maybe not even think we have the trait.
Then when you also look at the research on the brain functioning, where we find that sensitive people have more activity in the neurons that have to do with empathy and just general consciousness, then we say, oh well, that’s not a bad thing to have.
The research also helps in a larger way, to help the rest of the world appreciate that the trait is real and has value. Most HSPs really do blend in, but a few with more problems—depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, health issues—are often the ones others notice, so that they think this is all there is to sensitivity. In fact, the majority is doing very well. I’m hoping that the research empowers sensitive people to be more themselves so that everyone can benefit from that — employers, spouses — everyone.
I’m also hoping that the research will help parents and teachers and pediatricians and also employers and policy-makers to create conditions that bring out the best in sensitive people because we see their differential susceptibility and we see how unusually well they can function in a good environment, and not so well in a bad one.
LP: What further research is needed for scientists to understand more about highly sensitive people?
EA: Well, with the children there has been considerable physiological research, but less of that has been done with adults. It might be interesting to see how sensitive people react in certain situations. Certainly we want to study the kinds of interventions that work for best for them. If they’ve had an unsupportive childhood, how can we alter the effects of that — in adolescence or whenever we can apply an intervention?
In terms of the brain studies, anatomical studies aren’t that helpful — looking at whether HSPs’ brains look different. What brain researchers look for is how do brains look different when they are doing a particular task. So we’ve given sensitive people and non-sensitive people a few tasks while having a brain scan (this is called functional magnetic imaging), but there are quite a few more that we could do.
Another interesting study would be would be to look at rejection or shame. We know the part of the brain that reacts to rejection or shame. We know that it’s the same part of the brain that reacts to pain. When we say someone has “hurt” feelings, we are literally talking about how it hurts in the brain. I’d like to see if that area is more easily stimulated in sensitive people, by subtle indicators. That would probably be helpful for seeing that this is normal for HSPs. Because when we do studies like this, we control for negative affect like depression or anxiety. So even if a person had a bad childhood, we’re sort of saying, OK, we’re going to take that piece out of your scoring on the test and then the brain scan and we’re going to see if you’re still that way in spite of taking that piece out.
If all sensitive people are more easily shamed than others, and I think they are, it would make evolutionary sense. We wouldn’t bother to study for a test if we weren’t afraid of being shamed for failing. So shame is another motivator. I want to do it right so that I’m not embarrassed or I don’t look stupid. Again, it makes sense that for a person to think deeply or notice subtleties, they would have to have emotional motivation of some kind to process things more carefully.
There are many other studies that could be done. I think it would be interesting to explore more how sensitivity is viewed in different cultures and different subcultures. Some has been done about this for men, but in general. The possibilities are vast, because this trait seems to affect almost all aspects of behavior in some way.  I even did a survey study of HSPs and non-HSP regarding their sexuality, and of course there were differences in what they liked and didn’t like, what life experiences they had had in this realm. The trait affects every sort of attitude and behavior.
Lynn Parramore is contributing editor at AlterNet. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How reliable is the knowledge provided by our senses?


How reliable is the knowledge provided by our senses?

There are many different theories about how our senses actually work. Initially, that may seem surprising: surely our senses just communicate what’s out there, be it an image, a sound, or a smell, to the brain? But of course, the process is far more complicated than that, and the variables that are involved means that there is room for debate over what exactly happens. Moreover, just a quick glance at the perceptive abilities of animals quickly reveals just how limited our senses are: in terms of our eyes, for example, our lenses are not capable of dealing with objects at long distance, the twin images they then project onto the retina are tiny and upside-down, and the retina itself is pretty much colour-blind. The optical abilities of human beings, then, are very poor. So how do we see with any certainty? Where there is uncertainty, there are theories…

Herman Grid Illusion
Herman Grid Illusion

Hermann von Helmholtz’s ideas

The first serious study into how the eye works was done by Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894). He was a German physician and physicist who investigated an unfeasibly large number of subjects, one of them being, the eye. Having decided that vision should be, physiologically speaking, all but impossible, Helmholtz ventured the theory that we construct images in our minds by inferring the whole based on past experience. In other words, we convert the shaky and rather inaccurate pictures generated by our eyes into something that makes sense based on our understanding of the world.

Verifying Helmholtz’s ideas

Scintillating Grid Illusion
Scintillating Grid Illusion

These two optical illusions are probably familiar. The images show two different grids on top of a black background. The first, known as the Hermann grid illusion after its nineteenth century ‘discoverer’, Ludimar Hermann, shows a series of white lines on top of the background. Except, that’s not what you see. You see white lines with black blobs at their intersecting points. The second one, which is even more arresting, is known as the scintillating grid illusion, and was created in 1994 by Lingelbach. This has intersecting grey lines on top of the background with white spots at the meeting points of the lines. Except when you are not focusing on these spots, they turn black.

The precise way in which these illusions work is very complex, and certainly not worth going into. For our purposes, it is enough to say that we have trouble perceiving the true image because of the frailties of our optical sense. Our minds try to put a picture together for us to comprehend, but is unable to do so because of conflicting models of comparison. This makes more sense when we consider the theory that advanced the ideas of Helmholtz.

Gestalt Theory

The German word ‘gestalt’ means “form”, “figure”, or “shape”, and is the label given to a group of psychologists based in Berlin who were working during the 1920s – 40s. They agreed with the idea that we make a ‘best fit’ of images created by our eyes, and added that we do so by perceiving the whole, rather than little bits of the object we are looking at individually. We do this unconsciously and very quickly. The phrase stating that, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is associated with Gestalt psychology.

The simplest example of this is how we perceive words: we do not base our understanding of words by individual letters, but by perceiving words, phrases and sentences. It is only when you come across a word that you have not encountered before do you have problems with individual word.

Do you see the dog?
Do you see the dog?

This sentence has
has something wrong
with it.

If you glance at the sentence above, you don’t initially notice the extra word, and you certainly don’t have any problem understanding what its meaning is.

A more complex example is the picture on the right. If you look at its individual parts, it is very hard to make sense of. However, if you allow your eyes to take in the whole of the image at once, you are able to determine what its subject is.

It is, of course, a Dalmatian dog sniffing around underneath a tree whose leaves have dropped onto the ground.

Latest theories

The weakness of the ideas of the Gestalt psychologists is that they generally describe, rather than explain, how our senses work. Modern theories are based on the ideas of computational neuroscience, which uses computers to build up models of how the senses work, and allows scientists much more scope to come up with explanations of how the brain functions.

However, what the ideas do provide us with is a way of understanding how we do not receive an objective picture of the world, and how our vision of the world – even at the basic level of sense perception – is often varied and subjective, and dependent on our powers of reason and emotion, which is where we are going next.

Beau Lotto on sense perception

Beau Lotto’s ‘Lotto Lab’ is dedicated to exploring how and why we perceive the world through our senses in the way we do. Lotto’s ideas are founded on the principle that we have evolved a way of seeing the world that suits us best, and that we are very selective in the way we view the world. He argues that context is everything: our minds often trick us into seeing things based on previous experience.

Lotto’s inspiring TED talk can be seen here. Watch it, and you will literally not be able to believe what you are seeing.


The implications of these illusions should not be underestimated, and the ‘fun’ side of them shouldn’t overshadow the what their significance is. As Lotto explains, our brains only see what they want to see – conditioned by evolutionary instincts of survival – no matter what our reason tries to impose on our minds. In other words, what we see may not match up to reality at all.

Here are some more extraordinary illusions which our brains simply cannot cope with.

Do the horizontal lines appear straight? They are.
Do the horizontal lines appear straight? They are.

Do the grains of rice appear to be moving? They're not
Do the grains of rice appear to be moving? They’re not

Does the image look as though it is expanding? It isn't
Does the image look as though it is expanding? It isn’t

Stare at the cross for 10 seconds. Do you see a green dot moving around the circle? It isn't there
Stare at the cross for 10 seconds. Do you see a green dot moving around the circle? It isn’t there

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. How reliable is the knowledge provided by our senses? (10th May 2013). theoryofknowledge.net. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quantum Activism

Meet Amit Goswami

Theoretical Quantum Physicist Dr. Amit Goswami is a revolutionary amongst a growing body of renegade scientists who, in recent years, has ventured into the domain of the spiritual in an attempt both to interpret the seemingly inexplicable findings of curious experiments and to validate intuitions about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life. A prolific writer, teacher, and visionary, Dr. Goswami has appeared in the movies What the Bleep do we know!?, Dalai Lama Renaissanceas well as the award winning documentary, The Quantum Activist (read more)

CPAK 2014 Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge | October 17-19 | Register at www.cpakonline.com

Ancient Wisdom Event Welcomes
Dr. Amit Goswami

The Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge (CPAK) brings together the leading scientists and explorers on the topic of "Ancient Wisdom in Pre-Dark Age Cultures." This year, the 9th Annual CPAK (October 17 - 19) will study the archeology, anthropology, language, science and spiritual practices of these cultures with the goal of better understanding consciousness in the higher ages.
Materialist Science

Materialist Science Isn’t The Whole Picture! What do we mean by materialist science? Materialist science takes it as its basic axiom that everything is matter. We have literally managed to train a whole generation of students on the idea that everything is material, but this Newtonian world view that has shaped our understanding for centuries is now giving way to the revelations of quantum physics which goes beyond materialism; to show that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being.
It's Objective and It's Scientific

You can call it God if you want, but you don’t have to. Quantum consciousness will do. Nonlocality, tangled hierarchy, and discontinuity: these signatures of quantum consciousness have been independently verified by leading researchers worldwide. This experimental data and its conclusions inform us that it is the mistaken materialist view that is at the center of most of our worlds problems today. To address these problems, we now have a science of spirituality that is fully verifiable and objective.

What is Amit Thinking About?

Manifest Your Dreams
When we think about cosmic ordering, we consider it to be the act
of placing an order with the universe and waiting to receive it. But, what is the key to unlocking its potential, and is it as simple as giving out good vibes and attracting them back – in a boomerang-like fashion? (read more)

Quantum Optimism
The metaphysics on which we base our perception of the world today is pessimistic. The metaphysics of scientific materialism that is now the foundation of all our sciences and social systems recognizes only the existence of matter, which necessarily limits our choices and therefore our ability to solve the planetary crises facing the human race... (read more)
It's Time to Walk Our Talk

More than just theory, quantum activism is the moral compass of quantum physics that helps  us to actually transform our lives and society.

’So let’s walk our talk, and make brain circuits of positive emotions. We just do it. We practice. Let some of us be good, do good. Be with God some of the time, be in the ego some of the time, and let the dance generate creative acts of transformation. With this resolution, with this objective in mind, I invite you to become Quantum Activists.’
A genuine paradigm shift. While mainstream science remains materialist, a substantial number of scientists are supporting and developing a paradigm based on the primacy of consciousness. Dr. Amit Goswami, Ph.D, a pioneer of this revolutionary new perspective within science shares with us his vision of the unlimited potential of consciousness as the ground of all being and how this revelation can actually help us to live better.

OPINION: 7 Categories of Dreams and Their Meanings

Define Your Dreams: 7 Categories of Dreams and Their Meanings

Dreams can have categories within categories that can be limitless. However, I have broken them down into seven easy to remember groups/categories that can be defined.  In my previous blog, I shared how you can dream your life to wellness by remembering your dreams.


In this blog, I will discuss the seven categories of dreams, how to define them, and how they can overlap.

After you have remembered, and written down your dream in your journal, define it by using the information and definitions below.  Then look for validation within the dream to be sure you have defined it correctly.

1.)                          Daydreams- when you know you are awake but no longer focused on a task. Your mind wanders and you begin to get information. It could be answers to a challenge in your life or the solution to a job related problem. This state is much like a meditative or prayer state. Your Higher Power is always aware and listening.

2.)                          Lucid Dreams- you know you are asleep and dreaming.  This usually occurs just as you drop into a dream state after you go to sleep. With time and practice you can learn to control the outcome of these dreams and also make them emotionally or spiritually healing dreams.  This is especially true if they are recurring dreams. Change the ending or your reaction during a lucid recurring dream may solve the riddle in your life. One listener to my radio program said that she always had trouble falling asleep and never remembered her dreams, just that she woke up angry as soon as she had fallen asleep. As she worked on remembering her dreams by writing them in her journal and following the steps in my previous blog (link above) her father kept appearing in her dream and it would make her so angry she would immediately wake up. The next time her father showed up in her lucid dream she embraced him and told him that she forgave and loved him. She took control of her lucid dream and the angering recurring dreams stopped. That new ending was the key to her anger and difficulty sleeping riddle.

3.)                          Nightmares- who can forget that message. It is a way to be sure you remember all the important information necessary to solve a problem or work through a situation that could be life-saving. In my case it was a dream that started off as a spiritually guided lucid dream but turned into a prophetic healing nightmare when my guides turned into scary circus clowns while holding my mammograms. I immediately got the message and the details were impossible to forget. This prophetic lucid nightmare saved my life. I had stage four breast cancer that my doctors had missed in my mammogram.

4.)                          Recurring- because you did not understand the information the first time or solve the riddle of life. Remember, dreams speak to us with signs and symbols. If you keep missing the message, it may start to morph into a recurring nightmare.

5.)                          Healing-emotional or physical information to help heal yourself or a situation.

6.)                          Prophetic- dreams that come true and can be validated by facts, scientific tests, or life events. My prophetic dreams of cancer were validated by pathology reports.

7.)                          Epic- an entertaining storybook that you pick up and continue during sleep. It is a break from reality,  entertaining movie during sleep time. An opportunity for your inner children and imagination to play.

Dreams can be messages from the “other side” or just entertainment. We know the difference by validation within the dream. Keeping a dream journal will help you learn to distinguish between the different types of dreams and their messages.

We often forget that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience on the earth plane. We are spiritual being housed in a human body having a human experience. Our spirit is in this terrestrial world but not of this world. Therefore, we are partially extraterrestrial. Our dreams are our inner-ET phoning home for information or help dealing with human challenges. What is amazing is that someone on the “other side” always answers the phone. Categorizing and defining your dreams will help you remember the answers to your inner-ET’s questions.

Learn more about the author: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos @ www.survivingcnerland.com  where you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

6 Signs You Could Be a Highly Sensitive Person



May 18, 2014

Psychologist Elaine Aron's research on a temperament category she describes as the "highly sensitive person" (HSP) has been gaining increased attention in recent years, and giving many people a big "aha" moment. Could you be among the 15-20 percent of the population she believes make up this group? I've learned that I am, and finding this out has changed the way I look at...everything.
When I was a kid, the taste of many foods was unbearably intense, and certain sounds were, too. I had a vivid imagination and experienced acute awareness of emotions — both my own and those of others. Yet I was not shy. Somtimes I would get so overstimulated I would find myself talking constantly, a tendency that earned me the nickname "Loquacious Lynn" from my mother and demerit points in school. I was transfixed by odd things: once, at summer camp, I stood paralyzed by the side of a stream, knowing that when I reached the other side I would be older and could never reverse the flow of time. I felt and saw things that enchanted and sometimes frightened me.
I grew up thinking I was most definitely weird, if not a tad crazy, and tried to send these peculiarities underground so I'd appear "normal." The effort was exhausting.
According to Aron, a lot of kids grow up feeling flawed (and perhaps medicated on that assumption) when they are not really flawed at all — they are just expressing a trait well within the normal human range: high sensitivity. In some cultures, such as Japan, the trait is highly valued, though sadly, this is often not the case in Western society, and such children can experience negative or confused reactions from peers and adults. In the 2011 documentary "Bully," a child who commits suicide in repsonse to bullying shows his first signs of being "different" as high sensitivity to loud noises, a fact no one comments upon as linked to his distressing experiences at school.
An HSP's temperament appears to be largely inherited (revealed through twin studies and other research), though environment plays a key role in how it develops. If the child is either overprotected or chastised for expressing what is for him or her perfectly normal, problems develop. Researchers who study the brain find that HSPs are aroused by stimuli that may not be detected by others and their difference has to do with how the brain processes information. They can't change what they are, though they can learn how to cope and monitor themselves.
High sensitivity can be seen in other higher animals, too. From an evolutionary standpoint, the trait is valuable in a group. While you don't want everyone, or even most members to have it, heightened sensitivity in some individuals is beneficial: They can warn of potential danger, make acute observations of the behavior of other animals, and share the wisdom of their tendency toward greater reflection. In history, HSPs would be the priest-advisors in the community. Today they are often the artists, teachers, researchers, and judges.
In the modern world, the trait has both positive and negative aspects. On the good side, you may be better able to spot errors and process information to deeper levels in your brain. On the bad side, you can react to false alarms and become rattled by loud noises and other stimuli. Caffeine and medicines may cause you to react more than most. Aron has also observed in her work that HSPs who had difficult childhoods are particularly prone to anxiety as adults.
According to Aron, this trait is not a new discovery, but it is something that has often been misunderstood and culturally devalued, making life challenging for people who live with it. Here are some things that tend to be associated with HSPs. (You can also take a self-test online.)
1. You were described as sensitive or shy as a child. You were the kid who knew what somebody was about to say before they said it. You reacted strongly to changes in your environment. Maybe you were the one who paused to watch before jumping into the game. Aron emphasizes that while most HSPs have been labeled shy, a full 30 percent have not and would be described as extroverted. She notes that some observers, like Susan Cain in her best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, may really be talking about sensitivity when they discuss introversion. Being highly reactive to stimuli does not necessarily mean you don't seek out crowds or new acquaintances, although it often does. The key underlying trait is sensitivity, not inhibition. Some HSPs are actually sensation-seekers — stimuli can bring them intense pleasure as well as discomfort.
2. You pick up subtleties in your environment. The HSP's brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. One thing HSPs share is the tendency to notice things others might not pick up on so readily, like the mood of a teacher or the rearrangment of furniture in a room. An artificial sweetener might taste like a chemical experiment, and someone's slightly off-key singing might sound like a fingernail on a chalkboard. HSPs might also have noticed a tendency to detect when someone is telling a lie, or intuit another person's feelings.
3. You can easily become overwhelmed. Too much intensity, chaos and noise can wreak havoc on an HSP, which is why they often work better in quiet environments. When they are able to concentrate, HSPs are excellent at work that requires deep thinking and fast turnover. But turn up the volume around them and ask them to do too many things at once and they become overloaded. If you're the kind of person who feels the need to retreat by yourself after a trip or an outing with friends or a busy day, you might be an HSP. Part of managing life for an HSP (or somebody who is close to one) is understanding and respecting the need for extra time to regroup and making allowances for your particular work style.
4. You fall hard and fast: Aron has devoted an entire book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, to the topic of HSPs and their style of loving. When they fall in love, they often feel tremendous ecstasy, and often very quickly, but they also feel anxiety, overstimulation and difficulty processing their intense emotions. Overstimulation and intensity can make intimacy difficult for HSPs, who are also the type of people who naturally seek it out. For HSPs, the risk of heartbreak and unhappy relationships is unfortunately higher than average, but understanding the trait and finding a partner who can be patient with it can increase the odds of success.
5. You are conscientious: HSPs tend to be conscientious people who try hard to perform their duties well and execute their work at their very best level. They often have particularly good manners, and notice when others don't. Rudeness and work that is full of errors drive them nuts. HSPs are often especially concerned with issues of social justice, and will fight hard to right wrongs in the world.
6. You have a vivid imagination: HSPs are often very creative people. They have vivid dreams and can wander off into imaginary realms in their minds. They are also very empathetic and can imagine the thoughts and feelings of others. An interest in art, philosophy and spirituality is common. Carl Jung was one of the early psychologists most interested in HSPs (he used a different term), probably because he himself was one. He thought that people with "innate sensitivity," as he put it, were more in touch with the unconscious mind and could be especially insightful.
If all of this sounds like you, you might just be a highly sensitive person, equipped with a temperament that requires special skills and knowledge to deal with. As I'm learning more about how this trait works in my own life, I'm grateful that Aron does not pathologize it, but treats it as something that simply is. Even for people who are not HSPs, information on the topic can surely be useful to parents, teachers, partners, and co-workers who have an HSP among them.
Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.