Sensory Processing Sensitivity: Some background info

Are You Highly Sensitive The concept of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) was first described in 1997 by husband and wife research team Dr Arthur Aron and Dr Elaine Aron. SPS refers to a tendency to process sensory information more thoroughly,  which is characterised by heightened emotional reactions to both environmental and social stimuli. The SPS construct draws upon a range of previous research into personality, including introversion in adults, inhibitedness in children, Gray’s biopsychological theory, Dunn’s model of sensory processing, and similar traits in other species.

According to the SPS model, the higher levels of processing sensitivity cause HSPs to more easily be overaroused by sensory input, e.g. strong smells, tastes, temperature, and loud noise. HSPs are also more sensitive to subtle stimuli, employing deeper and more complex processing of information before taking action in novel situations. SPS is related to, but not equivalent with introversion and neuroticism, nor is it a disorder.  The trait is estimated to occur in 15-20% of the general population, and can be assessed through the 27-item Highly Sensitive Person Scale (HSPS) developed by Aron and Aron.

The HSPS questionnaire has been independently assessed for reliability and validity; however,  researchers Evans & Rothbart suggested refinement into a two-factor scale, while another research group proposed dividing the scale into three separate subscales – aesthetic sensitivity, low sensory threshold, and ease of excitation – to highlight more nuanced facets of the trait.

The HSP population are not an homogeneous group: based on published research data, research interviews, and her extensive clinical experience, Dr Elaine Aron estimates that approximately 30% of HSPs are extraverted sensation seekers (related to the behavioral inhibition and behavioral activation systems).

More information on SPS can be obtained at Dr Elaine Aron’s website:


Aron, E. N. (2011). Psychotherapy and the highly sensitive person: Improving outcomes for that minority of people who are the majority of clients [electronic resource]. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (1997). Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(2), 345-368.

Aron, E. N., Aron, A., & Jagiellowicz, J. (2012). Sensory processing sensitivity: A review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 16(3), 262-282.

Dunn, W. (2001). The sensations of everyday life: Empirical, theoretical, and pragmatic considerations. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55(November/December), 608-620.

Evans, D. E., & Rothbart, M. K. (2008). Temperamental sensitivity: Two constructs or one? Personality and Individual Differences, 44(1), 108-118.

Evers, A., Rasche, J., & Schabracq, M. J. (2008). High sensory-processing sensitivity at work. International Journal of Stress Management, 15(2), 189-198.

Eysenck, H. J. (1991). Biological dimensions of personality. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality (pp. 244-276). New York: Guilford Press.

Gray, J. A. (1981). A critique of Eysenck’s theory of personality. In H. J. Eysenck (Ed.), A model for personality (pp. 246-276). New York: Springer.

Gray, J. A. (1991). The neurophysiology of temperament. In J. Strelau & A. Angleitner (Eds.), Explorations in temperament: International perspectives on theory and measurement (pp. 105-128). New York: Plenum.

Kagan, J. (1994). Galen’s prophecy. New York: Basic.

Smolewska, K. A., McCabe, S. B., & Woody, E. Z. (2006). A psychometric evaluation of the Highly Sensitive Person Scale: The components of sensory-processing sensitivity and their relation to the BIS/BAS and “Big Five”. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(6), 1269-1279.

Sobocko, K., & Zelenski, J. M. (2015). Trait sensory-processing sensitivity and subjective well-being: Distinctive associations for different aspects of sensitivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 83(September), 44-49. doi:

Suomi, S. J. (1997). Early determinants of behaviour: Evidence from primate studies. British Medical Bulletin, 53(1), 170-184.

The art of savouring


“Wise savouring does so in a way that hurts no-one, and helps the individual and broadens social relationships. And also savouring brings meaning, and where we find meaning, we savour” — Fred Bryant






Have you ever admired a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Or luxuriated in the feeling of soaking in a warm bubble bath? Or maybe just enjoyed a delicious meal? Yes? Then you were practising the art of savouring.

What exactly IS savouring?

Savouring is being mindfully aware of your feelings during pleasant experiences and deliberately doing something to either amplify or extend your enjoyment of those experiences. We can savour experiences from the past (e.g. reminiscence), present (e.g. savouring the moment), or the future (e.g. anticipation).

Fred Bryant is a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago, and is considered the father of research on savouring. He describes savouring as similar to “….swishing the experience around….in your mind,” and his research has found links between savouring and high levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem, optimism, and frequency of happiness. A research team in Belgium also found that using a variety of savouring strategies can be more beneficial to overall happiness than just using a few specific strategies.

In their 2006 book Savoring: A new model of positive experience, Bryant and  his co-author Joseph Veroff describe 10 concise ways that we can develop our savouring skills.

1) Sharing with others

One of the first things we like to do when we get good news, is to share it with someone who’s important to us, such as a partner, close friend, or family members.

Research has shown that when we capitalise positive experiences by sharing them with someone, well-being and positive emotions are increased, over and above the impact of the positive event. And when we perceive that others respond positively and constructively to our good news, the benefits are multiplied.

2) Memory building

This can be as simple as pausing for a moment to take a mental photograph (or an actual photograph) of something that we want to remember later, such as a heart-warming moment between loved ones, or the sound of their laughter.

We can include savouring moments in our daily activities, such as consciously looking for good things while taking a walk.

3) Self-congratulation

It’s a good idea to savour your successes by giving yourself a pat on the back and taking credit for your hard work.

Self-congratulation is not encouraged in all cultures, particularly Eastern ones, where it is more customary to downplay personal achievements. Self-congratulation may also feel somewhat challenging for people who have humility as one of their signature strengths, so even giving yourself a small mental nod of appreciation is still flexing your savouring muscles.

As with any positive psychological activity, you can choose the ones that resonate with you.

4) Sensory-perceptual sharpening

Honing-in on your sensory experiences, or using your senses more consciously, is another way to develop your savouring skills.

One of the easiest ways to do this is when you’re eating. Slow down during meals and really focus on the food – smell the aromas, really look at your food, close your eyes when you are eating.

This technique can also be applied to other sensory experiences, e.g. closing your eyes while smelling a fine wine, enjoying a massage or warm bath, or listening to music.

5) Comparing

We can boost our positive feelings by making ‘downward’ comparisons. For example, if you are feeling stressed at work, you can remind yourself that you DO have a job, or think of those who may not have a job at all.

6) Absorption

Research suggests that people get the most enjoyment from experiences when they allow themselves to become totally absorbed in the task or in the moment. This also often involves losing your sense of time and place, and is a state that psychologists refer to as “flow” – you are completely immersed in what you are doing.

Children are naturally adept at this, but as adults, we tend multitask and get distracted by things going on around us.

7) Behavioural expression

This can be as simple as smiling or laughing when something good happens, or something more exuberant like jumping for joy! Outwardly expressing your positive feelings can give the mind evidence that something good has happened.

8) Temporal awareness

Being mindful of how quickly time flies, and remembering to savour the good moments as they’re happening can help you to enjoy them even more.

We can savour positive experiences from the past, by recreating a happy moment with our imagination. We can also savour future positive experiences by imagining something good happening or anticipating something we’re looking forward to.

9) Counting blessings

There are many opportunities for us to take a moment and appreciate something good in our lives. We can express to our loved ones how blessed we feel to have them, or we can take time to appreciate a delicious meal before eating. Even expressing our enjoyment of a beautiful day out loud helps to affirm our positive feelings and savour them.

10) Avoiding kill-joy thinking

Avoiding or transforming negative thinking is just as important as thinking positively.

We can do this by savouring the positive aspects of a situation, or by cultivating optimistic thinking. We can also take a step back from our troubles and take a “big picture” view of the situation, reminding ourselves that whatever it is will pass, and in a month, six months, or a year from now, we may not even remember the upset.


Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(3), 227-260.

Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Quoidbach, J., Berry, E. V., Hansenne, M., & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(5), 368-373.