Anyone who wants to quantify whether or not they are highly sensitive person, i.e. have sensory processing sensitivity, can go to Dr. Elaine Aron’s website www.hsperson.com and take the “Are You Highly Sensitive?” self test. Believe me, Cathy and I each easily exceeded the criterion of 14 true responses. In addition, for research purposes, the Arons have also developed a standard 27-item HSP scale, as well as a 6-item and 12-item scale, for evaluating sensory processing sensitivity. The individual questions are worded slightly differently although, in my opinion, the thrust of each questions is unchanged. Also, the responses are made on a scale of 1 to 7, rather than simply true or false, allowing further quantification of the responses. Despite these refinements, however, all of these tests are questionnaires and remain subject to all of the problems inherent in self-reporting instruments.
… equals self-reporting
Self-reporting is associated with a host of uncontrollable issues which affect one’s responses and skew results. These range from mood, “I’m having a bad hair day…” to outcome bias, or, “I know I’m highly sensitive, and I want to prove it.” Furthermore, self-reporting even comes with its own, scientifically recognized bias. This is Social Desirability Bias… the tendency of respondents to answer in a manner that will be seen in a favorable light by others.
Over the years, I have amazed myself with my own responses to personality inventory questions. No matter how truthfully I answer in the moment, certain aspects of my type or temperament seem to shift back and forth as the years pass. In fact, at some deeper level, I wonder to this day if I, or any of us, know ourselves well enough to tell the “truth” for each and every question we might be asked, or for that matter, the same “truth” each time a question is repeated. No matter how sincere we are or hard we try, truth may be a thing of the moment, colored by past experience and the passage of time, rather than a fixed entity.
“Know thyself,” the Greek aphorism, has always held a deep fascination for me… to the end that I question whether, even in the best of all possible scenarios, we can ever truly know ourselves. It seems to me that at any given moment I am the amalgam of a wide spectrum of mood, emotion, and behavior… at times surprising even myself… and here I am, so to speak, in front of this questionnaire trying to express who I am as though it were all I am.
Baumeister, Vohs, and Funder have published one of the best summaries in the scientific literature addressing issues of self-reporting as opposed to the observation and measurement of actual behavior (http://rap.ucr.edu/baumeisteretal2007.pdf). Written in an accessible style and without inflammatory rhetoric, the authors lay out the problem researchers face when studying social and psychological behavior.
This is not a perfect world, so…
In scientific research, at any point in time we are stuck with the tools we have. When they are applied fairly, when the results are appropriately evaluated, and when the results can be reproduced or replicated, our body of knowledge of the world, and our place in it, has most likely been enlarged or clarified. Were it not so, the advances in knowledge made in even one lifetime would not be possible. Therefore, in my opinion, it is not that scientific research has pitfalls that is problematic, it is that the media, and those of us who read and listen to it, accept too much at face value and proceed to parrot this received information without sufficient appreciation for the probability it will be modified, or even refuted, over time.
These two blogs, I hope, have provided a foundation for the skepticism necessary for reading science. Now, I hope, we can begin to enjoy some of the insight science has brought to light about the world of the highly sensitive person.