Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



In light of claims made by Aron (1996, 2000; Aron & Aron, 1997), this dissertation tested the influence of sensory-processing sensitivity on communication via two sets of research questions. First, are highly sensitive persons more easily aroused by stimulation, and if so does this necessarily cause a decrease in affect recognition? Results of an experimental study (N = 342) indicate that highly sensitive persons (HSPs) were more distracted by audio stimulation, causing more errors in accuracy judgments on non-verbal decoding tests, most noticeably for facial expression detection. The implication is that, when aroused by stimulation in their environment, HSPs may be less interpersonally sensitive. The question concerned with claims about highly sensitive men in relationships and their supposed “feminine” nature (Aron, 2000). Thus, it is asked, Are highly sensitive men (HSM) in romantic relationships, as compared to non-sensitive men, more expressive of their emotions and more understanding of partners, qualities which supposedly create greater gender role stress because they do not meet American norms for masculinity? Results demonstrate that HSM reported are expressive of negative emotions (e.g., being bothered) and experience greater gender role stress, qualities which may lead partners of HSM to report lower satisfaction. The implication is that if HSM are more easily bothered and more emotionally reactive, then they are more expressive of negative feelings, a quality which is detrimental for relationships if these complaints are viewed as criticisms (Gottman, 1990). Overall, the studies suggest the communication behaviors of HSPs are influenced in mostly negative ways because of low thresholds for stimulation. Importantly, though, effects were generally small and hard to detect in the sample sizes reported here, and the current measure of SPS seems to be inappropriate for measuring the complete conceptual breadth of the construct. A number of intrapersonal, individual, and interpersonal directions for future research are suggested.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Bodie, Graham



Included in

Communication Commons