The role that neurotransmitters play: serotonin and dopamine
I wrote, recently, about serotonin and sensitivity - how a variation of the serotonin transporter gene leads to better decision making, and that the same percentage of people have this gene variation as have a Responsive temperament.
The link hasn't been definitively found yet - I'm not sure it's even been looked for. But it does make sense, when you take into account the many points of data already known about this temperament - like the greater tendency to pause before acting, to make decisions more carefully, and the increased sensitivity to good and bad environments - which correspond with what this serotonin variation does.
There's an even stronger link between the other famous neurotransmitter - dopamine - and sensitivity. You're probably familiar with dopamine as 'the reward chemical', and know that it influences our desire to work towards an expected good.
Our temperaments - and personalities - influence what we consider rewarding; what we're motivated towards and away from.
A Responsive temperament predisposes a person to move towards situations in which they will be able to use their gifts well, and away from those where they won't. For example, they will instinctively seek calm environments and avoid crowded places. You're far less likely to find them at a late-night club than on an overnight hike with friends.
What does this mean for Responsiveness/High Sensitivity?
So, how do we know that the Responsive/Highly Sensitive temperament is innate? And why does that matter for schools, workplaces, and other public places?
Many dopamine alleles (alleles represent variations in a gene) have been found to be associated with High Sensitivity/Responsiveness. A set of 10 of these alleles actually predict a medium-to-high chance of being Highly Sensitive.
These 10 dopamine alleles, like the one we looked at for serotonin, are related to doing better than others in good conditions and worse than others in poor conditions. (This is what's known as differential susceptibility - illustrated by the orchid/dandelion theory).
This is one of the ways we know that Responsiveness is innate: the high correlation of this set of 10 dopamine alleles with this temperament implies that Responsiveness comes much closer to being a genetically-inherited set of traits than any personality trait. (Personality traits are also very heritable, but associated genes haven't been found, as they have for Responsiveness/High Sensitivity).
Why does this matter for the workplace?
Therefore, what do we learn?
That, "it's innate, and it has its advantages" (Elaine Aron).
The value here, for workplaces, schools, and more, is that Highly Sensitive people can't 'get over' the differences which arise from their temperament. It's not something they can, or need to, change.
Just like an un-Responsive or non-Sensitive temperament, a Highly Sensitive or Responsive temperament brings both advantages and disadvantages . They come hand-in-hand.
If a Responsive person can be highly creative, insightful, conscientious, and empathetic; if they can perceive more than others and make more careful decisions, then they also, necessarily, become overwhelmed when there's too much data, without space to process it. They are, correspondingly, more negatively affected by too-bright lights, loud noises, time pressure, and close observation.
You can't get the good without the conditions required for producing it. You can't have a person who's more aware of the nuances without that person also being more affected by them.
If you want the benefits that high Responsiveness brings, you need the conditions which produce them, or allow them to arise.
This is the reason for all the advice I share, all the recommendations for changing workplace environments that I give. The changes you'll make aren't just a nice service to society; they're smart and concerted actions towards harnessing the real potential - all the actual benefits, currently perhaps hidden - of those who have this Responsive temperament. Of providing the conditions which will help them to thrive, not just survive.
Without those changes, your workplace will continue to miss out on the advantages of having thriving Responsive people. Those who are in your team will continue to languish, and the disadvantages of their temperament will keep being a liability - for them and you. A tragedy, and a lost opportunity.
Yet, you have an alternative: harness their strengths, and benefit exponentially.
Which will you choose?
Choose to harness the advantages.
Tamara - Sensitive Thrive is my consulting business. I believe that the world needs Highly Sensitive people who are flourishing. We need their hope, insight, wisdom, and awareness of beauty and possibility. My vision is to help create a culture where this temperament is known, understood and valued; where organisations seek Highly Sensitive people to work for them, because they know what they can do. Where HS people feel like they fit in their workplaces, because those workplaces also fit them. A world where HS people belong, thrive, and flourish, and the world is better for it.