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Summary of the 2nd International Conference on Sensitivity Research

4th July 2024 - By Sophia Bibb

About the authors

Sophia Bibb is a first-year Neuroscience PhD student at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, USA. She is interested in using psychophysiology and neuroimaging modalities to elucidate the neural underpinnings of temperamental sensitivity.


The 2nd International Conference on Sensitivity Research took place online on the 22nd of May, 2024. In this blog post, we summarize the meeting and highlight some key contributions from various sensitivity researchers.


Since the late 1990s, there has been an explosion of research focusing on individual differences in innate sensitivity and what it means to be a sensitive person in the modern world. It became clear that people vary in how sensitive they are—but research on the topic was scarce.

Over time, a growing number of scientists from different sub-fields of psychology—developmental, evolutionary, social, genetic, personality, and clinical researchers alike—began converging on the trait that we now know as environmental sensitivity. At this conference researchers from across the world came together to share recent research contributions on this important trait.

This year’s conference was held virtually on May 22nd, 2024. It was a half-day conference that consisted of a keynote address, three 15-minute talks, three 5-minute flash talks, and a panel discussion on the measurement of sensitivity.

The topics covered in the talks included recent empirical findings, future directions of research, and implications of present research for clinicians. There were close to 300 participants in attendance from different backgrounds, all of whom were able to ask questions through the online Q&A function.

Keynote address

After the organizer, Dr Michael Pluess from the University of Surrey, UK, gracefully navigated some challenging technical difficulties, the conference began with a keynote address by Drs Elaine and Arthur Aron.

Dr Elaine Aron is a clinical psychologist by practice, and Dr Arthur Aron is a social psychologist. Together, this research power-couple created the first sensitivity scale in 1997, known as the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) scale. They also were the first to define the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).

In their address, they provided an overview on how the science of sensitivity has evolved since they first defined the trait in 1997 and how we can continue pressing research in this field forward.

15-minute talks

First up, Dr Jenni Kähkönen, a recent graduate student and now postdoctoral researcher at the University of Surrey, UK, presented her work on highly sensitive children in school settings.

In her talk, she first discussed the development and validation of the teacher-report Highly Sensitive Child in School (HSC-School) scale. She then shared her findings using this scale, including insights into the emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal characteristics and outcomes of highly sensitive children in the context of school.

Jenni found that highly sensitive children have advanced emotion recognition skills, avoid mistakes, and show less impulsive behavior than less-sensitive children. Additionally, she found that the HSC-School scale, relative to existing sensitivity measures, uniquely captures how sensitivity manifests in school settings.

Dr Véronique de Gucht from Leiden University, Netherlands, then presented her work on the development of the Sensory Processing Sensitivity Questionnaire (SPSQ), a new measure capturing six subscales of sensitivity: emotional and physiological reactivity, sensory discomfort, sensitivity to subtle stimuli, aesthetic sensitivity, social-affective sensitivity, and sensory comfort.

Dr de Gucht also shared her findings on the relationship between sensitivity, giftedness, and resilience using this scale. She found that gifted individuals have higher social affective sensitivity than the general population, but are lower in emotional and physiological reactivity than the general population. Additionally, she found that resilience serves as a buffer between high sensitivity and distress.

The last 15-minute talk was given by Dr Elham Assary from King’s College London, UK. Dr Assary shared her recent work on the genetics of sensitivity, including insights from a large twin study.

She explored the interplay between nature and nurture regarding mental health outcomes and sensitivity in a sample of 2,900 twins. Dr Assary found that high SPS was associated with greater levels of anxiety, depression, and autistic traits and lower levels of subjective wellbeing, and that the genetic component of sensitivity accounted for 2-18% of individual differences in these mental health traits.

5-minute flash-talks

Then came the 5-minute flash talks from early-career researchers! First up was Dr Sofie Weyn from the University of Bern, Switzerland. She presented her work on the relationship between sensitivity and overstimulation, demonstrating significant differences between how and why HSPs and non-HSPs become overstimulated.

Namely, Dr Weyn found that when fatigued, HSPs are more quickly overstimulated than non-HSPs. She also found that when HSPs are in a good mood and enjoy their environment, they are less likely to become overstimulated than non-HSPs.

Next up was Dr Robert Marhenke from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He shared his work on the relationship between sensitivity and attention.

In his experimental study, Dr Marhenke found that HSPs are better at ignoring distracting stimuli in their environment than non-HSPs, providing evidence for a deeper and more careful sensory processing of the environment in HSPs.

The last flash talk was given by Sophia Bibb from The Ohio State University, US (me!). I shared my work on the relationship between sensitivity, childhood family conflict, and objective stress responding in youth ages 16-19.

My work revealed that in a group of people who experienced childhood family conflict, HSPs demonstrate greater threat reactivity to unpredictable stressors than non-HSPs. However, in the absence of childhood family conflict, there is no difference between HSPs and non-HSPs.

My findings contribute to our understanding of how witnessing family conflicts in childhood might differentially impact and sensitize sensitive children to threat later in life.

Panel discussion on measurement of sensitivity

The final event of the conference was a panel discussing the measurement of sensitivity, chaired by Dr Michael Pluess. The panel included discussion amidst Drs Elaine Aron, Véronique de Gucht, Francesca Lionetti (G. d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy), and Monika Baryła-Matejczuk (University of Economics and Innovation, Poland).

The panel discussion covered essential components of environmental sensitivity, existing measures of sensitivity and their strengths/limitations, how to best capture the essence of sensitivity using self-report, and objective measures of sensitivity.

The panel concluded that depth of processing is the core characteristic of SPS and that effective scales should capture the way sensitivity impacts both perception and behavior.

They also agreed that capturing or “diagnosing” sensitivity with a questionnaire is challenging due to the complexity of the trait, and that training in sensitivity is essential to improve awareness for how to identify and interact with HSPs in clinical, school, and home settings.

Finally, the panel agreed that there are currently no neural or biological markers of sensitivity but that research should aim to understand sensitivity using as many modalities as possible, including genetic, neuroimaging, and psychophysiological methods.


Technical difficulties and all, the conference was a definite success! Each researcher brought a unique angle to the study of sensitivity and helped expand the scope of our understanding of how sensitivity impacts the human experience.

It was my first sensitivity conference (and my first time presenting at a conference!), and I would highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about sensitivity. Until next year!