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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Yuanyuan Huang


PhD student



Project Title: Different Flavours of Sensitivity: Investigating the Existence, Predictors and Coping Behaviours of Different Types of Environmental Sensitivtiy

Summary: Environmental Sensitivity has been defined as the ability to register and process information about the environment (Pluess, 2015). Such sensitivity enables humans to perceive, evaluate, and respond to the specific environmental conditions of their context (Pluess et al., 2018). A growing number of empirical studies provide evidence that people indeed differ in their sensitivity with some more and some less sensitive not just to negative but also to positive experiences (Belsky & Pluess, 2009; Pluess & Belsky, 2013). In other words, some people are generally more and some generally less sensitive to both negative and positive environmental influences. However, what hasn’t been investigated yet is whether there are different types of sensitivity. For example, some sensitive individuals might be especially responsive to negative experiences, and others to predominately positive exposures (Pluess, 2015). The reasoning behind the potential existence of different sensitivity types is that differences in sensitivity are influenced by environmental factors. According to a recent twin study, 47% of the variance in sensitivity is explained by genetic factors and the remaining 53% of differences in environmental sensitivity are shaped by environmental factors (Assary, Zavos, Krapohl, Keers, & Pluess, 2020). Hence, the quality of the environment (particularly during early development) may shape the genetic predisposition for general sensitivity over time into different phenotypes of sensitivity (depending on the specific quality of the environment). These different sensitivity types will likely differ in their response to negative and positive exposures.

In the current PhD project, I will investigate such differences in sensitivity type across three work packages:

  1. Development of a questionnaire to identify sensitivity types, investigate the existence and distribution of these types in several cross-sectional survey studies.
  2. Identification of the specific environmental predictors (e.g., early and current life stressors) of these different types in cross-sectional survey studies.
  3. Testing of differences in coping behaviour between more negative and more positive sensitivity types in lab-based studies as well as in a longitudinal study on student adjustment to university and exams.



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