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Measuring Sensitivity in Chinese Children

7th September 2023 - By Danni Liu & Dr Anouk van Dijk

About the authors

Danni Liu, a PhD student at Utrecht University, examines how children’s sensitivity plays a role in positive and negative interactions with peers and parents.

Dr Anouk van Dijk, an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam, examines the causes and treatment of aggressive behavior problems in youth.


We translated the most-used sensitivity questionnaire for children into Chinese and studied how well it worked for Chinese children. Our results from two studies are promising: our Chinese version of the Highly Sensitive Child Questionnaire aligned in most aspects with similar studies conducted globally.

Study background and aims

Researchers hypothesize that sensitivity is a universal trait that exists in children everywhere, no matter what their culture or background. Yet most research on sensitivity is carried out in Western countries, so it is hard to actually test if sensitivity works the same way across the world.

In our study (1), we therefore decided to translate the most-used sensitivity questionnaire (the Highly Sensitive Child Questionnaire; HSC) (2) into Chinese and examine its psychometric properties, so that researchers may use this questionnaire to study sensitivity in Chinese children. This way, researchers may gain a better understanding of sensitivity across different cultures.

Does the Chinese Highly Sensitive Child questionnaire perform well?

Our first goal was to examine the quality of our Chinese HSC questionnaire. For this goal, 2,925 children and 460 caregivers filled out the HSC questionnaire. Overall, we found that the Chinese HSC questionnaire performed well. The main findings of the study are:

Our first goal was to examine the quality of our Chinese HSC questionnaire. For this goal, 2,925 children and 460 caregivers filled out the HSC questionnaire. Overall, we found that the Chinese HSC questionnaire performed well. The main findings of the study are:

            1)  Chinese children exhibited the three aspects of sensitivity, just like Western research has found(2, 3, 4). These aspects are:

  • Ease of Excitation: This means that children get easily overwhelmed by external and internal demands.
  • Low Sensory Threshold: This means that children get easily aroused by external stimuli such as loud noise.
  • Aesthetic Sensitivity: This means that children get easily stimulated by beautiful or artistic things.

These sensitivity facets, also called subscales of the HSC questionnaire, may help us understand the different ways in which children are sensitive.

           2)  The total questionnaire measuring overall sensitivity generally gave us consistent results. However, we observed that the questionnaire’s reliability was a bit too low for elementary school children compared to middle school children.

           3)  The subscales measuring different types of sensitivity were less reliable in our study. This was also found in some other countries, such as Belgium (3) and Japan (5). This means that we need to make some improvements to the Chinese HSC questionnaire before we can fully rely on the results for the different sensitivity types.

           4)  Our Chinese HSC questionnaire measures sensitivity in similar ways across children of different ages, genders, and when caregivers or the children themselves provided the information. This means that we can use this questionnaire across different age groups, genders, and reporters.

How does sensitivity relate to other traits in Chinese children?

Our second goal was to examine how Chinese children’s scores on the HSC questionnaire relate to scores on other common characteristics or traits (such as extraversion), just like what has been observed in Western research. For this goal, 845 elementary school children and 563 middle school children participated. Overall, our results aligned with previous Western research. These are the main findings:

             1)  As in Western research (2, 3, 4), we found that Chinese children with higher levels of overall sensitivity tended to be less extroverted and were more inclined to experience negative emotions. On the positive side, these children were also more inclined to feel positive emotions and were more open to new experiences.

            2)  When we looked at the different aspects of sensitivity, we noticed something interesting. The sensitivity aspect called “Ease of Excitation” was connected to negative traits such as the tendency to feel more negative emotions. On the other hand, the sensitivity aspect called “Aesthetic Sensitivity” was connected to positive traits such as the tendency to feel more positive emotions and to be more open to new experiences. This may explain why children with high total HSC scores, which combine both types of sensitivity, are sensitive to both negative and positive experiences.

General conclusions and implications

In summary, our study showed that the Chinese version of the HSC questionnaire provided similar results to what researchers from Western countries have discovered. This means we can trust this questionnaire to assess overall sensitivity in Chinese children.

The validated Chinese HSC questionnaire has important implications for both research and real-world applications. It allows researchers to advance our understanding of sensitivity and investigate the role it plays in children’s development across different cultural contexts, specifically in China.

It may also illuminate how sensitivity impacts the way Chinese children react to both positive and negative experiences. This knowledge can pave the way to improve interventions by identifying children who are at heightened risk but also benefit more from supportive and nurturing environments. Finally, the Chinese version of the HSC allows for cross-cultural research on differences regarding such needs.


  1. Liu, D., van Dijk, A., Lin, S., Wang, Z., Deković, M., & Dubas, J. S. (2023). Psychometric Properties of the Chinese Version of the Highly Sensitive Child Questionnaire Across Age Groups, Gender, and Informants. Child Indicators Research, 1-26.
  2. Pluess, M., Assary, E., Lionetti, F., Lester, K. J., Krapohl, E., Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (2018). Environmental sensitivity in children: Development of the Highly Sensitive Child Scale and identification of sensitivity groups. Developmental Psychology, 54(1), 51–70.
  3. Weyn, S., Van Leeuwen, K., Pluess, M., Lionetti, F., Greven, C. U., Goossens, L., Colpin, H., Van Den Noortgate, W., Verschueren, K., Bastin, M., Van Hoof, E., De Fruyt, F., & Bijttebier, P. (2021). Psychometric properties of the Highly Sensitive Child scale across developmental stage, gender, and country. Current Psychology, 40(7), 3309–3325.
  4. Sperati, A., Spinelli, M., Fasolo, M., Pastore, M., Pluess, M., & Lionetti, F. (2022). Investigating sensitivity through the lens of parents: Validation of the parent-report version of the Highly Sensitive Child scale. Development and Psychopathology, 1–14.
  5. Yano, K., Kase, T., & Oishi, K. (2021). The Associations Between Sensory Processing Sensitivity and the Big Five Personality Traits in a Japanese Sample. Journal of Individual Differences, 42(2), 84–90.