Title page for ETD etd-04262012-150423

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Gearhart, Christopher Charles
Author's Email Address cgearh1@lsu.edu
URN etd-04262012-150423
Title Communicating While Stimulated: The Effects of Sensory-Processing Sensitivity on Behavior and Relationships
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Communication Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Bodie, Graham Committee Chair
Garand, Jim Committee Member
Honeycutt, Jim Committee Member
Pecchioni, Loretta Committee Member
Gresham, Frank Dean's Representative
  • interpersonal communication; nonverbal decoding ac
Date of Defense 2012-04-24
Availability unrestricted
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.

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