What does scientific research tell us?

Emotions and sensibility have always interested writers more than scientists. Philosopher Mathilde Chevalier-Pruvo recalls: “In all philosophical and spiritual traditions we find the idea that certain beings have a sharp and profound presence toward themselves and their inner life, but also toward others and their environment. In Buddhism we speak of an awakened being, a bodhisattva. But religion, philosophy, it does not create science.

Immunological and emotional

Psychiatrist and co-author of the book on high potentials, Nicolas Lhomme, confirms: “Only immunological sensitivity is scientifically described by the Gell and Coombs classification, which defines a disproportionate immune response in an individual to an aggressor. For example, a bacterium, virus, toxin or allergen. Emotional hypersensitivity belongs to the register of subjectivity, given the lack of scientific evidence on the subject. It is true that we know that certain parts of the brain are more involved with emotions, but there is no consensus on these areas. not good enough.”

What about individual tests?

Moreover, patients presenting for hypersensitivity are rare. In the same age group, they heard more often about tests of intellectual intelligence, but also emotional, above average: a high potential to have common points. “People who score high on tests are not necessarily sensitive, and vice versa,” emphasizes Pascale Michelon, Ph.D. in neuroscience. Nicolas Lhomme notes: “These tests can be useful if the doctor sees them as a criterion to better understand the individual, to help him adapt better to society, to help him be less demanding of himself and others, and therefore to reduce certain sufferings.”

There is no objective diagnostic tool

This is the work of juniors like American Elaine Aron, who in the 1990s pioneered identifying individuals with greater depth in processing sensory information. Until now, descriptions of “hypersensitivity” in medicine were accompanied only by other psychological disorders, neuroses and psychoses, of which hypersensitivity is only one of the symptoms. Moreover, Freud compared it to hysteria until Jung, in 1913, identified hypersensitivity as a personality trait and showed that it had nothing to do with illness. But only in 1997, the concept of emotional intelligence was proposed and defined by American psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer. Since then, as French researcher Nicolas Gauvrit has shown, scientific publications have steadily increased. “However, we do not have an objective diagnostic tool to identify high emotional potential,” explains Nicolas Lhomme. A test may simply describe it as the ability to overreact emotionally to a particular stimulus, relative to the population average. »

Examinations to be taken with tweezers

So why should we provide scientific evidence for a character trait? Mathilde Chevalier-Pruvo laments: “Fashion is extremely ‘biological’, we want to explain everything about human behavior through biology. We shouldn’t need to trace hypersensitivity to genes or the brain to prove that this is a legitimate way to live and feel. To that end, we’d be a little quicker to spread pseudo-scientific studies without worrying about their methodology. If we take Elaine Aron, we understand that it is based on a series of telephone conversations with three hundred people living in the United States. The law of proportional statistics does the rest, estimating at least 10% of vulnerable people in the world. Since then, a more recent study of (just) nine hundred American students has re-estimated that figure to 30%… “As soon as a concept becomes fashionable, there are abuses and assumptions that sensitivity invites us to, instead, nuance and in depth,” notes Mathilde Chevalier-Pruvo.

Emotions have never pleased researchers because we cannot draw real conclusions from them.

Nicolas Lhomme, psychiatrist.

Whether we know it or not…

Pascale Michelon explains: “Currently, we are trying to understand the thresholds of perception in the brain using neuroimaging, but this concept is not necessarily related to sensitivity because it does not exist in science. To date, only one study has attempted to correlate the Elaine Aron test with this study, scanning the brains of approximately twenty susceptible individuals. They are shown images of individuals experiencing certain emotions, and we observe greater activity in certain areas of their brains involved in affective empathy at the level of the insula and limbic cortex. These people seem to need less sensory input on average to respond. This may explain why a person with moderate HSP sensitivity does not habituate to noise… But this single study is not representative enough. Effective intensity is certainly learned. “Still, the research is very few and very small,” emphasizes Pascale Michelon. The only element that seems to be in agreement is the existence of ‘mirror zones’ demonstrated by imaging: ‘If I see someone in tears, the sadness areas in my brain are activated in the ‘mirror’, and I may cry. … Many studies show that this imitation mechanism is present in everyone. But only one tends to show that this “mirror” activity is more intense in the so-called hypersensitive people, “explains the doctor of neurology.

Also to discover:Are they all sensitive? Folder

The Serotonin Story

We also know that there are small and large transporters of serotonin, the “happiness hormone” that regulates our emotions. A team of researchers identified a sensitivity determinant in our genetic code that runs through chromosome 17: a region where two genes can be linked to transport more or less serotonin through a protein in two forms, “long” (in large carriers). ) or “short” (in small carriers). The latter will be more sensitive to external events and emotional losses, and others will be less fragile and less emotionally affected, and at the same time, the need to lead an existence rich in various stimuli… Therefore, one can imagine an increase in the speed of influence on a person. serotonin in hypersensitive people: this is what is done with antidepressants, most of them artificially increase this ratio. But “serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter involved. Other molecules such as dopamine, norepinephrine or oxytocin also play a role,” notes psychosociologist Gilles Azzopardi. Therefore, the medical community does not consider treating hypersensitivity. “We will try to help those who turn to us in a global approach, explains Nicolas Lhomme. Sometimes hypersensitivity becomes a symptom in bipolar people. Therefore, they will be treated for this mental illness in parallel with psychotherapy. Otherwise, we can only work on emotions, learn to accept and welcome them…”

Empathy in the plural

To better understand this, a distinction must be made between affective empathy and cognitive empathy. The first makes us feel the emotions of the other, the second only allows us to understand them. The levels of activated neurons are different in the two cases, which explains why, for example, psychopaths who lack affective empathy are able to display superior cognitive empathy, which will allow them to better manipulate their victims… without suffering what they suffer! While some studies demonstrate that hypersensitive people may have more affective empathy, none suggests that they will have more cognitive empathy. Perhaps they will be even less… However, it is necessary to put yourself in the other person’s place and understand him. So HSP (hypersensitive), or even HPI (high intellectual potential), HPE (high emotional potential)? If there is no scientific truth, there should be no labels. “I spend my life fighting against them in therapy, storm psychotherapist and teacher Marie-Jeanne Trouchaud. Then, we read ourselves only through the diagnosis! So the dilemma: to be self-affirming or not to be HSP? Above all, it is about knowing yourself, protecting yourself from your fragility and turning it into an asset.

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