science of us

Everything to Know About the Highly Sensitive Person

Photo: Junru Bian / EyeEm/Getty Images

Kanye West has been running amok with his opinions lately, from his tweet storms showing his support for Trump to his suggestion during a TMZ Live interview that slavery was a “choice.” He also recently sat down with “The Breakfast Club” host Charlamagne tha God to discuss everything from his health (he told TMZ he was addicted to opioids after getting liposuction) to the fact that he characterizes himself as a HSP, or highly sensitive person.

He actually mentions HSP twice in the interview. Once, when he refers to himself as one to explain his interruption at the 2009 VMAs, during which he declared that Taylor Swift robbed Beyoncé of the award for Best Female Video. “It’s every time award show has ever done that. Just fuckin’ with artists,” he said. “We are HSP, highly sensitive people.” And then he mentions it again, when he said the reason he went into fashion “was actually to take the incredible HSP in the fashion house and bring them to some place where they can consistently connect with the public.”

The “highly sensitive person” that Kanye described is the name for someone who possesses a series of traits that relate to sensitivity. Coined by clinical psychologist Elaine Aron in 1991, an HSP is someone who is more aware of subtleties, and who processes information more deeply than others, which makes them more susceptible to feeling overwhelmed in their daily lives. HSPs are sometimes mistaken for introverts, but that’s not always the case; 30 percent of them are extroverts. HSPs have also been characterized as being fearful or neurotic, but, again, not all HSPs possess those qualities (though some do).

Aron outlines the following specific questions on her website as key components of HSPs:

Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?

Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?

Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?

Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?

Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?

Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?

Do you have a rich and complex inner life?

You can take a test on Aron’s website here to figure out if you are one of the estimated 15 to 20 percent of people who are HSP. HSPs are not only found in the human population, but in over 100 different species, including fruit flies, fish, and dogs, where the trait acts as a sort of survival strategy that involves observing a situation before acting.

In our culture, you’re not exactly revered if you are a sensitive person. HSPs are often told to “stop being so sensitive” whenever their sensitivity emerges, like if they react poorly to criticism or assume someone is mad at them based on a subtle change in that person’s behavior. But when an HSP’s thoughts aren’t running wild to the point of debilitation, the trait is something to be celebrated. They tend to be creative writers and artists, are more in-tune with their environments, and connect on a deeper level with other people. Unfortunately, despite the fact that HSPs are so common, we don’t know as much about the trait as we should. For those who are curious, Aron has tons of resources on her site, including books and newsletters, but until more research is done, we’ll all just have to get what we can from Kanye’s interviews.

Everything to Know About the Highly Sensitive Person