Genetic sensitivity moderates the effects of maternal stress during pregnancy on child behaviour with children that are genetically more sensitive being more affected by the quality of their prenatal environment.
Sensitive people are more strongly affected by both negative and positive experiences.
We conducted a genetic study of environmental sensitivity using a novel approach involving identical twins. Using these findings, we were able to estimate the genetic propensity to environmental sensitivity in two further samples and showed findings that were consistent with theories of sensitivity.
Our study examined whether prenatal stress increases sensitivity to parental care in an animal model.
Results showed that prairie voles that were prenatally stressed were more sensitive to the quality of care they received in terms of their later anxious behaviour and physiological reactivity.
Sensitivity is associated with enhanced activation of brain regions implicated in awareness, memory, and empathy. However, this comes with a cost such as greater risk for over-arousal and overstimulation.
Preliminary evidence suggests that for highly sensitive individuals “rest” may be especially critical for information integration and return to a well-balanced state.
Intervention research has recently started to focus on genetic differences in order to explain why interventions work better for some than others. However, establishing the reliability of such genetic research is fundamental.
Research has shown that sensitivity is related to common personality traits, such as Neuroticism and Openness to Experiences.
The association with Neuroticism reflects the tendency of sensitive people to experience stress more easily.
In contrast, Openness to Experiences seems to capture sensitive people’s aesthetic sensitivity and their deep processing of information.
Our study investigated the heritability of sensitivity.
Results showed that 47 percent of the differences in sensitivity between individuals are genetically determined, whereas the remaining 53 percent are accounted for by environmental factors.
As part of my doctoral research, I investigated sensitivity among teachers. Results show that being highly sensitivity has strengths as well as weaknesses for teachers.
Sensitive teachers reported having more empathy towards their students, but also experienced more difficulties with the challenging aspects of the teaching profession.
Should we understand sensitivity as a continuous dimension that ranges from low to high or as a category, with some people being highly sensitive and others not?