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Scientists Find Genetic Difference In Highly-Sensitive People

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Do people say you are highly sensitive whether it be physically or emotionally? While it can feel like a burden, it can also mean a greater capacity for work, love and compassion.

"I knew that I was more sensitive, that I took things deeper and harder," Ane Axford said.

"I felt things and they were heavy," added Sandra Clifton.

Both women are so sensitive, they say that it has affected every aspect of their lives.

"It's a whole different way of being in the world," Axford said.

Now scientists say that they know why some people feel so much more. New research has indicated that hypersensitive people are genetically different than those who feel a normal degree of sensitivity.

"We've done brain activation studies," said Dr. Elaine Aron.

"Sensitive people show more activation, both in the secondary intentional areas," Dr. Arthur Aron added.

Clinical Psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron conducted the studies and ultimately found that a large portion of the population – 20 percent -- is made up of highly-sensitive people (HSPs), as the Arons have categorized them.

"They're a bit more emotionally reactive. They process things more deeply," Elaine said.

Do you think that you may be one of them? You can take the Arons' self-test, that is comprised of 27 questions, to find out.

Some of questions in the test include:

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by bright lights and noise?
  • Do you startle easily?
  • Do other people's moods influence you?
  • Does caffeine have a great effect on you?

If you answer "yes" to a quarter of these questions or more, the Arons say that you may be an HSP.

The Arons' research also shows that highly-sensitive people, who had a difficult childhood, may struggle with shyness, anxiety, and even depression. In those cases, therapy or even medication may help.

"I felt like there was something wrong with me," Axford said.

She says that just getting the label HSP helped her; knowing she was not alone.

Still, Clifton says her HSP can be such a burden that even the characters from books and television provoke overwhelming feelings of emotion.

"Sometimes I have to say, 'These are fictional characters. This is a character in a book,'" Clifton explained.

Both women say that being highly sensitive is unlike anything else, so in tune they want to tune out of life. Everything sound, every voice, every mood is amplified by a million.

"The volume is turned up on everything," Axford said.

"There are times when I say, 'Just one day, I want to be free from this,'" Clifton said.

Although some HSPs do benefit from medical help or therapy, the Arons say that most just live normal lives and tend to be the best workers, highly creative and extremely compassionate.

Many do benefit from support groups meeting other HSPs in their area. There are several here in Southland.


» Take The Arons' Self-Test
» The Arons HSP Website

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