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My mother just told me about the highly sensitive person test. I'm skeptical to what this scale can actually tell about me, if it is scientifically accurate and used by other academics as well.

The homepage claims:

Are you highly sensitive? You can find out by taking the self-test. This test, the result of empirical research on the trait, gives you a good sense of what high sensitivity is, as well.

I wonder: Is there empirical research behind this, is being a highly sensitive person a "real" medical condition and if so, can a simple test where I answer questions about myself determine if I have this condition?

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    Please expand this so it's not a two liner. Like this, frankly it's not asking about a particular claim. What is it that this scale is claiming that makes you skeptical? – Sklivvz Jun 25 '11 at 20:18
  • Sounds like a brand name from 1 look at the site. never heard it before. – Ruben Jul 3 '11 at 22:06
  • The term "medical condition" in the question seems to be a little misleading. @ChrisW's answer has shown it isn't considered a mental disorder, answering your question. However, is anyone claiming it is more than one end of one spectrum of normal traits? Even the original site says "Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population--too many to be a disorder". – Oddthinking Aug 6 '11 at 4:34
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The website notes that the scientific term for this is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. A pubmed search brought up 8 papers using this term. This paper. quoted below, in particular may be helpful as it discusses some of the personality markers and how they can manifest themselves in a person. For instance shyness, stress (especially in situations with lots of people), and possibly feelings of poorer health. I should note also that SPS and introversion seem to be closely tied, but SPS seems to be may not be exactly the same thing.

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) scale is a measure of sensory-processing sensitivity, which is conceptualized as involving both high levels of sensitivity to subtle stimuli and being easily overaroused by external stimuli. The current study examines the relationship between an individual's sensory-processing sensitivity, self-perceived stress, and phsyical symptom reports. Results indicated that sensory-processing sensitivity is positively correlated with levels of stress and symptoms of ill-health. After controlling for self-perceived stress and gender, the HSP scale added significantly to a hierarchical regression model predicting self-reported health.

Source: The Highly Sensitive Person: Stress and phsyical symptom reports, Grant Benham, Personality and Individual Differences 40 (2006), p1433-1440/

What may be important to remember here also is that this is ONE aspect of a person's multifaceted personality that can change from day to day, in certain situations with certain people and probably over time as well.

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    Okay, so now we have two names for it! However, but the original question hasn't been addressed. Is it scientific model with predictive power? – Oddthinking Jul 6 '11 at 0:58
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Okay, so now we have two names for it! However, but the original question hasn't been addressed. Is it scientific model with predictive power? – Oddthinking♦

is being a highly sensitive person a "real" medical condition

One of the definitions of whether a mental state is a "real medical condition" is whether it's described in the DSM.

Apparently, "introversion" is not mentioned in version 4 of the DSM: and is proposed for inclusion in the next version, DSM-5.

if so, can a simple test where I answer questions about myself determine if I have this condition?

Yes it can (as you have seen), however the test result might not be accurate, might not be communicable, and might not be actionable or prescriptive.

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    I hope this is an OK use of wikipedia: I'm using it as a short-hand way to make a bunch of claims about the DSM, e.g. that it exists, and that has some official/professional backing. I don't know a better reference, given that the DSM is deliberately not marketed to the general public. – ChrisW Jul 6 '11 at 3:46
  • Pinging @ChrisW, since the DSM-5 is now out, just in case you want to update this answer based on whether or not it was actually included. – Bobson Jan 5 '16 at 17:27
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Shortly - it seems like characteristic description and not a scientific condition, biologically, genetically or psychologically based.

Details:

  • After investigating and even participating in a HSP meeting (as an HSP candidate), I couldn't find any resource or paper that claims it has scientific, neurological or genetic evidence for HSP. The only diagnosis is based on a self-test composed by PhD. Elaine Aron at http://www.hsperson.com/ who wrote the book(s) and wrote most of the research papers published about this subject.

  • A paper coloumn does not reference any scientific research. The Wikipedia page Highly_sensitive_person also sheds some light on this trait comparing it to common psychological theories like Dabrowski's over-excitability and Jeffrey E. Young's Schema Therapy character with "Self Sacrifice Schema".

So lacking any evidence, my feeling is that it is one more psychological description of a character rather than innate genetic or biological difference.

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