A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
The basis of Sensory Processing Sensitivity is rooted in Environmental Sensitivity Theory. Environmental Sensitivity Theory is concerned with organisms' relative reaction to environmental factors and has several components, one of which is Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This is an important framework for people with High Sensitivity to know and understand. It helps us understand the underlying structure of why we are the way we are in many ways.
We now know that sensitivity is a part of a spectrum ranging from low (dandelions) to medial (tulips) to high (orchids). Sensitivity measures our reaction to stimuli in the environment, primarily sensory inputs. So it's not only about our sensing but our perceptions and, more importantly, our responses to this stimulus. This implies that those low on the scale have less reaction to environmental change and those with high sensitivity have greater reactions to the same changes.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it made me wonder, were there significant differences in how low, middle, and high sensitivity affected survival – was one group more adept at survival over the other. Was one more adapted to change than the others? What implications does sensitivity have in adaptation? Or does each group have adaptations that enhance their survival rates based on their sensitivity?
More on Environmental Sensitivity Theory
Environmental Sensitivity Theory is rooted in the study of organisms' reactions and adaptations to environments. The theory is based on a framework of several sensitivity models that include the Diathesis-stress model (adverse environment response), Vantage Sensitivity (positive environment response), Differential Susceptibility (some individuals are affected more by negative and positive environments), Biological Sensitivity to Context (sensitivity is impacted by environment) and Sensory Processing Sensitivity (the genetic basis of high sensitivity - HSPs).
The discovery of the SPS model by Dr. Elaine Aron, suggesting a genetic basis for individuals who process environmental sensitivity at a higher rate, has led to theories on a distribution model of general sensitivity within the human population. This theory has given rise recently to the flower metaphor, in which three distinct categories of sensitivity exist within the human population. This has implications for the adaptability of all three populations that may have some consequence for survivability.
Are Low environmentally sensitive individuals better adapted?
The reference for low environmentally sensitive (ES) individuals is to that of a dandelion. Dandelions are hardy, grow under the worst conditions, and are seemingly prolific. Does this make them less environmentally dependent? If so, would that not make them able to adapt to changing conditions much more readily – hence, would they be more adaptable and have a greater chance for survival?
Yet, I wonder if this adaptability might not serve as a disadvantage? Since they are intrinsically less sensitive to environmentals and are more prone to take more risks within the environment. Would this also not put them in harm's way more often? Might this factor lead to an early demise or embolden them to take life-altering chances? Truly there are advantages to taking risks, but also consequences. Perhaps, there are good reasons why this group only makes up about 30% of the population.
Responsivity is not correlated necessarily with sensitivity, so this is pure conjecture. But behavior is often driven by perception and the likelihood of perceived success. These behaviors might make these low-sensitivity types more likely to engage in risky behavior to explore and expand their life situations. This could be a good thing.
High environmentally sensitive individuals and survivability
If Low ES individuals are prone to risk and high adaptability, then what could be said of the High ES (HSP) individuals? Are the HSPs readily made and better suited for adaptability because of their caution, inhibition, and sensitivity to environmental conditions? Is this like a sixth sense about safety and survival? Yet, the theories propose that High ES individuals do much worse when environmental conditions are worse (see Differential Susceptibility) than when they are good. Does that make them less productive and less prone to survive?
Are HSPs because of this tendency to do poorly in less ideal conditions making them less adaptive? Are HSPs more risk-averse if the conditions are harsher? But what if the HSP's cautious and mindful Nature makes them better at navigating extreme conditions avoiding high risks, and surviving at all costs. Would that not make them better suited to survive? HSPs make up about 20 % of the human population.
The broad Middle environmentally sensitive individuals
Considering the extremes, both high and low ES, would that make the medial ES individuals the best group for survival? The middle group would be less likely to take greater risks in the environment, be hardier than the top group, and combine the best of both high and low. Sounds feasible, but could they be more dependent on the High and Low ES groups for leadership, counsel, and guidance? Are there more followers in the group? Are they happier, more satisfied, and less likely to make changes because of their relative satisfaction? Again, this is all speculative—so many questions.
Are the Low and Middle ES people, in some ways, dependent on the High ES group?
As I have stated multiple times, Dr. Aron and others believe that Nature has baked in the High ES trait into the population for evolutionary/survival reasons. Could the High ES group be the wise and mindful group that, through the normal reactions to the environment, serve as the proverbial "canary in the coal mine?" Because of our sensitivity to environmentals, does this make us well suited to serving that purpose of divination, sage guidance, and early warnings? And would that make HSPs better advisors than leaders? What role does EST play in informing about this notion?
I wonder if, in some ways, HSPs are more evolved humans. Better adapted to the best conditions, prone to thrive in the best conditions, and as a group a biomarker for seeking and living in the best conditions. Does EST say something about this? Does The larger population really need HSPs to survive?
I guess that all three groups perform specific functions to aid in the survival of the larger group. Based on the EST model, it would seem that each group continues to survive because they serve a particular function for the aggregate. Each group is designed to adapt based on their requirements and would enhance the overall survivability of the species, covering the other weaknesses.
I suppose every garden needs its dandelions, tulips, and orchids to thrive. Perhaps, that's how Nature has designed it.
Please comment with your thoughts.
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.