JUN 10, 2020 6:08 AM PDT

Our Genes Influence How Sensitive We Are

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Maybe you've been told that you are too sensitive, or you know someone who has strong reactions to positive, negative, or intense experiences. Some people seem to be more sensitive than others, and new research has suggested that this trait may be genetic.

Image credit: Pixabay

Twins that are raised in the same household experience mostly the same environment. Identical twins also carry the same genome, so twins can help researchers learn whether a trait is due to genetics - in which case a set of identical twins will both display the characteristic, or whether it's more likely to be related to environmental influences, and the trait will appear at similar rates in sets of identical and non-identical twins.

Researchers compared how identical and non-identical 17-year-old twins reacted to positive and negative experiences to gauge their level of sensitivity. The findings have been reported in Molecular Psychiatry.

"We are all affected by what we experience -- sensitivity is something we all share as a basic human trait," said the study leader, Michael Pluess, Professor of Developmental Psychology at Queen Mary University of London. "But we also differ in how much of an impact our experiences have on us. Scientists have always thought there was a genetic basis for sensitivity, but this is the first time we've been able to actually quantify how much of these differences in sensitivity are explained by genetic factors."

This study involved 2,800 twins: around 500 sets of identical twins and 900 sets of non-identical twins participated. About half of the twins were the same sex. They answered questionnaires designed by Professor Pluess that are meant to assess how sensitive an individual is to their environment. Later this month, the test will be freely available online, and you can gauge your own sensitivity level. The assessment is also meant to distinguish between sensitivities. Pluess is featured in the video below.

The research showed that environmental influences probably account for around 53 percent of a person's sensitivity levels, while genetics accounts for the other 47 percent.

"If a child is more sensitive to negative experiences, it may be that they become more easily stressed and anxious in challenging situations," said co-researcher Dr. Elham Assary. "On the other hand, if a child has a higher sensitivity to positive experiences, it may be that they are more responsive to good parenting or benefit more from psychological interventions at school. What our study shows is that these different aspects of sensitivity all have a genetic basis."

The scientists also found that there is a shared genetic component to sensitivity, extraversion, and neuroticism.

Professor Pluess believes the findings could help us in how we understand and handle sensitivity, in ourselves and others.

"We know from previous research that around a third of people are at the higher end of the sensitivity spectrum. They are generally more strongly affected by their experiences," Pluess said. "This can have both advantages and disadvantages. Because we now know that this sensitivity is as much due to biology as environment it is important for people to accept their sensitivity as an important part of who they are and consider it as a strength not just as a weakness."


Sources: Science Daily via Queen Mary University, Molecular Psychiatry

About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Human or Host? Parasites in Human History & Prehistory
NOV 10, 2022
Human or Host? Parasites in Human History & Prehistory
We've all seen the latest historical interpretations on television, the movies, or even the stage. And while talented co ...
SEP 26, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Thousand-Year-Old Poop Teaches us About an Ancient Parasite
SEP 26, 2022
Thousand-Year-Old Poop Teaches us About an Ancient Parasite
Parasitic whipworm eggs have been isolated from fossilized human fecal samples that were estimated to be over 7,000 year ...
OCT 08, 2022
Coronavirus
Carriers of Certain APOE Variants are More Vulnerable to Severe COVID-19
OCT 08, 2022
Carriers of Certain APOE Variants are More Vulnerable to Severe COVID-19
Researchers have long known that certain things are risk factors for severe cases of COVID-19, such as old age or obesit ...
OCT 22, 2022
Plants & Animals
Could Wolves Be Man's New Best Friend?
OCT 22, 2022
Could Wolves Be Man's New Best Friend?
Our connection to canines goes back at least 15,000 years. A dog's affection for its human companion is a part of wh ...
OCT 31, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Ancient Viral DNA in Our Genome Has a Protective Function
OCT 31, 2022
Ancient Viral DNA in Our Genome Has a Protective Function
There is viral DNA in the human genome, and each instance traces back to an ancestor who was infected with a retrovirus. ...
NOV 18, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
DNA suggests human migration along the Atlantic coast to settle South America
NOV 18, 2022
DNA suggests human migration along the Atlantic coast to settle South America
New research based on genomic analysis suggests humans migrated along the Atlantic coast to settle parts of South Americ ...
Loading Comments...