Multiple Interests and High Sensitivity

I was reading this very interesting post about The Highly Sensitive Person at the blog of my fellow scanner Alexia Petrakos. My response is really too long for a comment, so I’ve decided make a post out of it here instead.

Like Alexia, I also have a lot of the signs of high sensitivity mentioned in her post, and in the embedded video by Dr Aron. For example, I can’t stay in the room if there’s a horror film on TV, or one with a lot of violence. I was even scared of Dr Who when I was a kid, although my younger sisters loved it. I have a tendency to overreact to minor events, and I’ve been told off for being too sensitive. Those self-critical voices in my head are still very active, even though I’ve lost much of the shyness my school teachers used to comment on.

But I’m wondering whether high sensitivity is a separate characteristic, or whether it’s part of being a Scanner/Renaissance person. Here’s what Hank Pfeffer has to say about sensitivity and emotional intensity in people with “Too Many Aptitudes” (TMA).

Being a TMA is a very mixed blessing. Strong talents are extremely powerful internal forces. One of the most important implications of my aptitude research is the strong possibility that emotional intensity is directly correlated with the intensity of a talent. Someone operating at a high intensity level of talent (including reasoning) will also be operating at a high intensity level of emotion. Every thought, memory or perception is directly connected to emotion – a wholistic phenomenon.

It is quite possible that TMAs are continually operating in a hypersensitive manner. People hypersensitive to external and internal data in many forms and operating at a high emotional intensity level might very well become overstimulated.

Ongoing overstimulation could explain the paralysis felt by some TMAs. They are so overwhelmed by perceptions, memories, thoughts and feelings that they can’t commit themselves to anything. Many of them need a lot of time alone to regenerate. Yet, this same turbulence can also lead to great insight and creativity.

The existence of a powerful force implies difficulty in learning to harness that force. Having a lot of strong talents is a bit like dealing with high voltage. You can do a lot of things with high voltage. However, it can also fry you. It takes a lot more knowledge and more safety precautions to work with high voltage rather than low. A lot of that voltage for TMAs is emotional. Few people know how to handle normal emotion, let alone powerful, ongoing emotion.

That’s an extract from Hank Pfeffer’s article The Too Many Aptitudes Problem which I told you about in a previous post.

I find it particularly interesting because, in our society, there is a stereotype of highly intelligent people as lacking in emotion and relying purely on reason. Hank suggests, on the contrary, that high reasoning ability and emotional intensity go together.

He doesn’t quite agree that TMA people are the same as Scanners, but there seems to be at least a large amount of overlap between the two groups. People with multiple interests are likely to have many aptitudes too. Barbara Sher says in her book Refuse to Choose that aptitude tests often don’t work for Scanners, because they test high for everything.

I’d love to read your own thoughts (and feelings) about this in the comments here, or over at Alexia’s blog.

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4 comments for “Multiple Interests and High Sensitivity

  1. Debo
    17 May 2010 at 05:27


    I’ve just discovered that I’m a Scanner, and I feel quite relieved about it.
    I’ve been reading things about intelligence, gifted children/adults and other things on Asperger’s syndrome because of some similar apparent effects.

    I read a book by a specialist in gifted kids, that gifted people are highly sensitive, and get most details, odours and so on, of the surrounding space. This is why they often are really emotional, intuitive, and are interested in many things.

    I guess for most people, gifted people are just people that are more intelligent than others. The truth is that the intelligence is different. It’s not something more. The brain functions in a different way, and it’s a bit like the senses are pluged in an high voltage/ speed stream channels all the time.

    So I think, for that matters, that Hank is right, and the stereotype may as well describe highly sensitive persons that blocked their emotions to prevent them from being overwhelmed.

  2. 28 September 2010 at 17:59

    ‘Emotional intensity is directly correlated with the intensity of a talent’ – As an artist (among many other things!) and a ‘concerningly senstive child’ (according to my parents and teachers) Ive always felt there was some correlation between my seemingly unusual levels of creative talent and emotion, but never been able to articulate why this might be.

    ‘It is quite possible that TMAs are continually operating in a hypersensitive manner. People hypersensitive to external and internal data in many forms and operating at a high emotional intensity level might very well become overstimulated.’ – My partner comments all the time about how its difficult for me to be in certain environments due to the overstimulation of all my senses, and my difficulty relaxing and slowing down my brain.

    ‘Many of them need a lot of time alone to regenerate. Yet, this same turbulence can also lead to great insight and creativity.’ – Yes! I desperately need more alone time than most people i know and become extremely overwhelmed if i dont get it. When i do get it my creative output is always increased and even surprises me sometimes.

    ‘Few people know how to handle normal emotion, let alone powerful, ongoing emotion’ – Its exhausting being tuned in to the emotions of other people and myself, it results in a constant battle to keep the health effects of stress at bay.

  3. 27 July 2012 at 11:09

    This topic is so interested. I just recently found out that I am a scanner (yay for knowing!!!!), and am reading Barbara’s books. I already identified myself as a HSP years ago,and now it makes sense that the two might be linked.

    I know that I am easily overstimulated, especially since I am so excited about learning about so much, and then have to take a breath to take it all in.

    I know too I need lots of alone time, and need to plan for that when I need to be “on” all the time when coaching clients or doing other work…or during family vacations.

    BTW, Its so nice to know that I am not broken, or alone, and that I actually finish everything I start in my own way. Also nice to have a whole community of scanners out her-together I think we are going to change the world.

  4. Margaux
    13 January 2014 at 13:54

    There seems to be a number of Scanners who self-identify as HSP. I don’t. I am tuned in to other people’s emotions, but I have strong boundaries about what is mine and what is external.

    I love being overstimulated from time to time, but I also need alone time. Not to regenerate but to be alone with my thoughts, be able to play with my ideas, to research on my own, to experiment on my own, etc. But given an opportunity to play with others, I will happily do that, too, though not indefinitely.

    I do from time to time get nauseous in movie theatres because I can be overwhelmed by the odours, but this doesn’t happen often enough to be a thing.

    Considering something like 20% of the population can be described as HSP, I don’t think there is enough correlation with Scanners to make inferences about the two. My suspicion is that 20% of Scanners are HSP, the same as the normal population.

    If I look at the people I know who could be HSP and those who could be Scanners and are TMA, there isn’t much cross-over in my network. The people who I believe are HSP are definitely not TMA and not Scanners. Those I know who are Scanners appear to also be TMA. But, I can’t think of a single Scanner I know who could be HSP.

    Any attempt to pigeonhole Scanners into other personality categories is likely to fail. I spent some time on a forum (not Barbara’s) of Scanners and while some of them identified as HSP, so many others did not. When we discussed Myers-Briggs types, each person was sure that most Scanners would be the same type as they were. Guess what? Completely wrong. There were all various MBTI types represented in the group of 150+, none of them disproportionately greater than in a standard population.

    I’ve also studied Kolbe, DiSC, and Strengsthfinder, and there is still very little correlation with other Scanners, except perhaps the Strengthsfinder strength of Learner. I think it would be incredibly troublesome to make inferences based on anecdotal (self-reported) evidence.

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