The relationship between sensory processing sensitivity and psychological distress: A model of underpinning mechanisms and an analysis of therapeutic possibilities
Wyller HB., Wyller VBB., Crane C., Gjelsvik B.
Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a recently coined concept describing a predisposition toward extensive processing of sensory stimuli. It has been conceptualised as an innate, dichotomous personality trait. SPS is associated with elevated psychological distress (mental disorders as well as emotional and somatic symptoms), but the underlying mechanisms are unknown and no specific treatment approaches exist. The aim of this paper is twofold. Firstly, building on contemporary theories of depression aetiology, we propose and discuss a theoretical model for the relationship between SPS and psychological distress. This model suggests that it is dysfunctional cognitive responses to aversive sensory and emotional stimuli (labelled cognitive reactivity) - not the stimuli in and of themselves - which serve to maintain and exacerbate psychological distress in SPS. Secondly, we discuss the clinical implications of the proposed model. Because cognitive reactivity is addressed in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which has proven efficient at preventing depressive relapse, we suggest that MBCT might have clinical merit on SPS-related psychological distress as well. In conclusion, we suggest that future research should address the proposed model as well as the possible beneficial effect of MBCT for SPS-related psychological distress.