Sensitivity Groups Among Polish Teenagers
21st February 2023 - By Monika Baryła-Matejczuk
About the authors
Dr Monika Baryła-Matejczuk is a researcher with an emphasis on environmental sensitivity and the personal and professional development of teachers. She is involved in multiple research projects on sensitivity and has contributed to the development and validation of sensitivity measures for parents and teachers, which includes Polish adaptations of sensitivity scales.
We investigated the existence of different sensitivity groups among adolescents in Poland. Similar to research in other populations, we found that teenagers can be divided into three groups: low, medium and high sensitivity. However, the distribution of adolescents across these groups differed from previous research.
The research (1) described herein is based on the concept of environmental sensitivity. Environmental sensitivity is a common trait defined as the ability to perceive and process external stimuli (2).
The framework of environmental sensitivity proposes that individuals differ in their sensitivity to the environment, with some being more sensitive than others. The trait of sensitivity appears to follow a normal distribution in the population, with fewer being very high or very low in sensitivity to environmental stimuli whilst most people are somewhere in the middle.
In fact, the results of several studies indicate that people in the general population can be categorised into three groups along this continuum with 30% being in a low sensitive group, 40% in a medium sensitive group, and 30% in a highly sensitive group.
Initially, the assumption was that most people fall into two categories (high and low) and a flowers analogy has been used to describe them as “orchids” and “dandelions”. Highly sensitive people are referred to as orchids, given that they do exceptionally well in favourable conditions but also more poorly in unfavourable environments.
Low sensitive individuals, on the other hand, are referred to as dandelions, describing those that are generally less affected by what they experience and therefore tend to be more resilient in the face of adversity but also don’t benefit as much from positive experiences.
In recent years, several studies (3, 4) identified a third group, those with moderate sensitivity somewhere between orchids and dandelions. These have been described as “tulips”.
We explored data from 928 young Polish adolescents in two studies. Environmental sensitivity was measured with the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) scale. We then applied Latent Class Analysis (LCA) to test for the existence of different sensitivity groups and to consider the distribution across the detected groups.
Confirming findings from previous studies (4, 5), results indicated the existence of three sensitivity groups (low, medium, high) which differ significantly from each. Based on these results, it can be concluded that young Polish adolescents can be categorised into three groups characterized by different levels of sensitivity. However, the distribution of participants across the three groups is not in full agreement with previous research findings.
In more detail, students with high sensitivity accounted for 37.7% of the total sample. The medium sensitivity group was found to constitute only 21%, and adolescents with low sensitivity making up the remaining 41.8% of the population.
The proportion of the middle and low sensitivity groups differ from previous findings. However, it is not clear whether these differences are due to the specific age of the participants, the influence of Polish culture, a combination of the two resulting in a tendency of Polish youth of this age being more likely to use extremes when filling out a scale or whether this reflects a measurement issue. In order to form a more accurate picture of the origins of these differences in the distribution of participants, future research is needed.
The obtained results have both theoretical value and practical applicability. On one hand, it encourages a general reflection about several aspects of the study, such as the role of cultural differences, but also potential differences as a function of developmental stages (adolescence versus adulthood) and the characteristics of the scale that was used to measure sensitivity.
For example, findings highlight the importance of conducting studies across different populations and cultures in order to evaluate whether the sensitivity scale can be used across different cultures or whether it needs to be adapted for specific populations.
Furthermore, the identification of sensitivity groups is a key step towards achieving more personalized interventions and support by taking individual differences in sensitivity into account.
Finally, the results may provide further important information to decision-makers who plan support or intervention programmes at different levels of prevention, as well as for practitioners who can use the obtained group means which will help them to categorise people into different sensitivity groups and consequently provide diversified and adequate support to the individual.
- Baryła-Matejczuk M, Kata G, Poleszak W (2022) Environmental sensitivity in young adolescents: The identification of sensitivity groups in a Polish sample. PLoS ONE 17(7): e0271571. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0271571
- Pluess, M. (2015). Individual differences in environmental sensitivity. Child De-velopment Perspective, 9(3), 138–143. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12120
- Pluess, M., Assary, E., Lionetti, F., Lester, K.J., Krapohl, E., Aron, E.N. and Aron, A. (2018). Environmental sensitivity in children: development of the highly sen¬sitive child scale and identification of sensitivity groups. Developmental Psycholo¬gy, 54(1), 51–70. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000406
- Lionetti, F., Aron, A., Aron, E.N., Burns, L.G., Jagiellowicz, J. and Pluess, M. (2018). Dandelions, Tulips and Orchids: evidence for the existence of low-sen¬sitive, medium-sensitive, and high-sensitive individuals. Translational Psychiatry, 8(24). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-017-0090-6
- Tillmann, T., Bertrams, A., El Matany, K. & Lionetti F., (2021). Replication of the existence of three sensitivity groups in a sample of German adolescents, European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 18(1), 131–143. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17405629.2020.1763791