Do you tear up at sad movies, emotional cards, even the occasional heart-touching commercial? Do animal shelter ads bring you to tears and is it painful to watch violent movies because you can nearly feel everything the characters are going through? Well, according to a recent study, you may be part of the 20 percent of the human population who are simply more sensitive by nature.

Psychologist Arthur and Elaine Aron from Stony Brook University in New York believe that a fifth of the world’s population is genetically predisposed to "sensory processing sensitivity," the Daily Mail reported. In a recent study, this theory was further backed. The researchers used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to actually see how certain volunteers’ brains responded to outside emotional stimuli. A total of 18 married individuals of various SPS were scanned as they looked at photos of either smiling or frowning faces belonging to strangers or their spouses. 

Based on their study, the researchers concluded that there “is physical evidence within the brain that highly sensitive individuals respond especially strongly to social situations that trigger emotions.” They observed that highly sensitive individuals showed greater blood flow to relevant areas of the brain associated with “awareness and emotion” in contrast to individuals with low sensitivity.  The mirror neuron systems, an area of the brain associated with awareness and processing sensory information, showed the greatest activity, as shown by blood flow, the Daily Mail reported. The activity was greatest when highly sensitive participants were shown images of their spouses being happy. This trait of hypersensitivity is also believed to be genetic.

The idea of a highly sensitive person has been around for a while. These individuals “like to process things on a deep level," Dr. Ted Zeff, author of The Highly Sensitive Person's Survival Guide and other books on highly sensitive people, told The Huffington Post. This minority is more emotionally reactive, detail orientated, and takes longer to make a decision. Unfortunately, these individuals are also more prone to anxiety or depression. Surprisingly, not all sensitive people are introverts. About 30 percent of highly sensitive individuals are extroverts, The Huffington Post reported.

Highly sensitive individuals are also are likely to be easily overwhelmed, but according to Psychology Today, there are certain habits they can practice to reduce anxiety. These include: getting things done on time, limiting caffeine intake, and getting enough sleep. Not all is bad for these individuals. Psychology Today also reports that they tend to be more creative, have a deeper understanding for nuances in meaning, and have greater empathy. They also process information more thoroughly.

 

Source: Acevedo BP, Aron EN, Aron A, Sangster MD, Collins N, Brown LL. The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others' emotions. Brain and Behavior. 2014.