HCR.20.016 – Understanding and preventing overstimulation in highly sensitive individuals: an interdisciplinary approach

Route: Health care research, sickness prevention and treatment

Cluster question: 083 How do neurological, psychiatric, and mental disorders arise, and how can we prevent, mitigate, or cure them?

One of the most fundamental features shaping behaviour is sensitivity to sensory stimuli. All organisms, animals and humans, are for survival to a certain extent sensitive to sensory stimuli, but some more than others. The personality trait Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) reflects inter-individual differences in sensitivity to sensory stimuli. High levels of SPS are common (20% of the population), and observable already in young children. While high SPS is linked to susceptibility to positive (healthy) stimuli, it can also feed into overstimulation. Overstimulation occurs when sensory stimulation is too much to be successfully processed and thereby contributes to psychological and somatic symptoms (e.g., fatigue, concentration problems) and severely affects functioning (e.g., quality of life, daily activities). High sensitivity to sensory stimuli and overstimulation are common not only in high SPS, but also mental disorders (e.g., neurodevelopmental and stress-related disorders), and certain somatic conditions. Sensory sensitivity may therefore serve as a transdisciplinary framework to understand risk and protective factors in mental disorders and somatic conditions, and to develop trans-diagnostic preventive interventions. This interdisciplinary project will excel innovation across the edges of basic and clinical disciplines by studying the behavioural and neurobiological mechanisms underlying sensory sensitivity and overstimulation, in typically-developing and diagnosed children as well as animal models. We hypothesize that sensory sensitivity relates to disinhibition of excitatory neurons, and manifests in an altered balance between large-scale brain network activities bringing about automatic exogenous attention for positive and negative stimuli. We will use the gained information to develop an intervention (e.g., mindfulness-based), and test whether this intervention prevents overstimulation, thereby contributing to positive health in children, to the benefit of themselves and society.


neural mechanisms, overstimulation, positive health, Prevention, Sensory processing sensitivity


Organisation Radboud University Medical Centre (RUMC)
Name Dr. C. (Corina) Greven
E-mail c.greven@donders.ru.nl