Higher Sensitivity is Linked to Feeling Connected with Nature and Animals
30th November 2022 - By Dr Annalisa Setti
About the authors
Dr Annalisa Setti is based at the University College Cork in Ireland. She researches how we integrate sensory information to perceive a coherent world. She works on nature benefits for those who are highly sensitive with Dr Francesca Lionetti and Prof Michael Pluess.
We recently found that the higher people score in Sensory Processing Sensitivity, the more they feel connected with the natural environment. In addition, those who are highly sensitive are also more connected with animals, although they do not report higher attachment to pets than less sensitive people.
What was the aim of our study?
Elaine Aron has referred to the relationship between highly sensitive individuals and animals or nature as beneficial (1). Indeed, one qualitative study reported nature as a wellbeing promoting factor in highly sensitive people (2).
However, no study has quantitatively investigated whether those who are highly sensitive are really more connected with nature and animals. In two studies (3) we aimed to test whether high sensitivity is associated with:
- nature connectedness (Study 1 and 2)
- attachment to pets (Study 1)
- connectedness with animals (Study 2)
What was the method used?
In our first study, we collected data from 241 adult participants (with the majority being females), who were recruited either from the student population at the University College Cork or through social media.
Participants were asked to complete the Highly Sensitive Person scale (4), the Connectedness to Nature scale (5) and the Attachment to Pets scale (6), as well as to provide some information on their age, gender and nationality.
Nature connectedness was assessed by asking people questions such as whether they feel “part of the natural world”, and “not superior to other living entities”. The second scale asked people whether they feel “attached to their pets” and whether they are “important in their life”.
In the second study, we used the same method and surveyed 144 participants. However, instead of assessing attachment to pets, we used the Animal Attitude Scale (7), which assesses a more general sense of affinity with animals.
What we found
After analyzing the data, we found in the first study that higher Sensory Processing Sensitivity was predictive of higher nature connectedness, but not of higher attachment to pets.
This means that while those who are higher in sensitivity feel a special connection with the natural world, their attachment to pets does not differ from those who are less sensitive.
In study 2, we found that higher sensitivity was associated with higher connectedness with nature, as in Study 1, and also with higher affinity with animals (AA scale).
Although findings were similar between the two studies, it is important to consider that the study design was correlational which means that it is not clear whether sensitivity influences connectedness to nature, or whether connectedness to nature influences sensitivity. In addition, most of the participants were women.
Why does it matter?
Nature based solutions are emerging as a novel way to improve psychological health, and, more generally, foster wellbeing.
This study demonstrates for the first time that those who are highly sensitive are more connected with nature and animals, therefore they could potentially benefit more from contact with nature in order to improve their psychological (and physical) health.
Furthermore, feeling connected with the natural world leads people to adopt more sustainable behaviours, therefore making highly sensitive people potential role models for sustainability. These topics will be explored in future research.
- Aron, E. (2022, November) The Highly Sensitive Person. HSPerson. https://hsperson.com/comfort-zone/blog/
- Black, B. A., & Kern, M. L. (2020). A qualitative exploration of individual differences in wellbeing for highly sensitive individuals. Palgrave Communications, 6(1), 103. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-0482-8
- Setti, A., Lionetti, F., Kagari, R., Motherway, L., & Pluess, M. (2022). The temperament trait of environmental sensitivity is associated with connectedness to nature and affinity to animals. Heliyon, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2022.e09861
- 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. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.525
- Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(4), 503-515. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2004.10.001
- Marsa-Sambola, F., Muldoon, J., Williams, J., Lawrence, A., Connor, M., & Currie, C. (2016). The Short Attachment to Pets Scale (SAPS) for children and young people [Article]. development, psychometric qualities and demographic and health associations, 9(1), 111-131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-015-9303-
- Herzog, H., Grayson, S., & McCord, D. (2015). Brief Measures of the Animal Attitude Scale. Anthrozoös, 28(1), 145-152. https://doi.org/10.2752/089279315X14129350721894