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.
Highly Sensitive people provide an essential service.
The reason they are Highly Sensitive - the reason they are highly aware and deeply process - is so they can provide this service.
We know it's for this reason, because High Sensitivity - Responsiveness - is found consistently at this rate of 15-20% among humans and many animal species. In evolutionary terms, it's 'been selected for'.
What is that essential service?
That 1 in 5 people perceive more and process it in a way that makes more connections between more data. That they use this to provide insight, warnings of danger, pinpoint opportunities, notice the unseen aspects and invisible people, practise and teach others empathy, pause to reflect before acting - avoiding dangers and making better decisions - and provide beautiful, insightful and ennobling works of art: poetry, paintings, stories, music, and more.
The people who do this - the Highly Sensitive/Responsive among us - bring these abilities to all their endeavours. This is the service they provide.
Quite simply, Highly Sensitive people make the world a better place.
Help make it a better place for them.
I've written a few posts about what High Sensitivity is; this infographic summarises the main points about the temperament. It's an easily-shareable resource that can be used to give someone a quick overview, when you need to present the idea, such as before suggesting a workshop for your workplace.
I'm including a link to the file below the image, so you can download and share it, as needed. I hope you find this resource useful - and interesting!
If you're a teacher or school leader, this blog post is for you.
Highly Sensitive children are deeply affected by various environmental and situational factors - positively and negatively, depending on the quality of that environment.
They tend to be conscientious, creative, reflective and thoughtful. They will be concerned about getting things right, doing well, pleasing you, their teacher, and not getting into difficult situations with other students.
They need gentle encouragement to take risks, awareness of their real ability (which might be greater than it seems), and a few adjustments to their environment so that they can do and be their best. This can make the difference between mediocre performance and excellence, and between languishing, or the experience of just trying to get through each school day, and thriving in the joy of knowledge, belonging and achievement.
Here are a few resources that will help you to better understand, identify, and help the Highly Sensitive children in your care.
I hope that these resources will be of real use to you. I know that if there are Highly Sensitive children in your classes - and it's quite likely that there are, given that they make up 20% of the population - then knowing about it, and supporting them in a way that helps them thrive will be potentially life-changing for them. And I think you'll see positive differences in your whole class for it.
If you're a school leader, then you definitely have Highly Sensitive children in your school. I think I can say this with confidence - it would be very unusual if a temperament which 20% of people have wasn't represented in a whole school.... unless it's a very small school!
I offer workshops specially designed for the school context. You can choose between a shorter, introductory workshop (more of a presentation, but with helpful details and recommendations), or a slightly longer, more comprehensive and interactive workshop, with more bespoke recommendations. You'll find all the details at the link above - or see my Services page for an overview.
I would also love to hear about any discoveries or encouraging achievements you make in this process. Please share them with me by filling out a contact form here.
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.