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Can highly sensitive people multitask?


A women with pink hair who has lots of arms trying to do lots of different things

If you've read my blogs or listened to my podcast, you would know that I often talk about how highly sensitive people can often become overwhelmed when asked to do too many things at once. How often have you felt like things are piling on top of you just to have one more person ask you to do something? I'm guessing, you're left feeling completely overwhelmed. I would argue that most people feel this way at some point so what's the difference between being highly sensitive and not being highly sensitive if we all at some point, feel overwhelmed with taking on too many projects?


I read an article recently which was talking about executive functioning which is the ability to plan, multitask and focus attention and the impact that childhood has on HSPs. As with everything, childhood impacts us all in one way or another and even though the research tells us that being highly sensitive is 50% down to genetics, 50% is also down to environment which means that even if every HSP out there was born exactly the same (unlikely I know but stick with me here), by the time they reached teen years, they would all be on a different part of the highly sensitive scale purely down to the environment they grew up in.


The research which was conducted by Oeri, N. S., Kunz, N. T., & Pluess, M in 2022 looks at the impact parenting had on highly sensitive children and executive functioning. They studied 264 children in Switzerland and each child was asked to perform an executive functioning task while their parents filled out questionnaires on their child's sensitivities and their own parenting. The results showed that parents of highly sensitive children who were more involved had children who scored higher on the executive functioning tests meaning that they were able to focus, plan and multitask when needed. On the other hand, they found that those parents with highly sensitive children who used corporal punishment had children who scored lower on the executive functioning tests showing that they struggled to plan, focus and multitask. Interestingly, this wasn't the same as with children who were not highly sensitive.


This means that the environment a highly sensitive child grows up in has a huge impact on executive functioning. As Elaine Aron puts it so succinctly "A child who is over aroused all the time, fearing punishment, will not be able to develop executive functioning as well as a child who feels supported and securely attached to parents and can focus their attention on what they are doing." (https://hsperson.com/last-of-the-2022-research/)


So, if we return to my original thoughts at the start; highly sensitive people may get easily over aroused by their environment as they're growing up but how that affects their ability to multitask and plan largely relies on the support or lack of support they're receiving at home.


If I think to my own experiences as a highly sensitive child, I was encouraged and supported in many different ways and I count myself very lucky in that regard. As a result, my personal preference is not to have too many things on my plate because I don't like the head space all of the different questions take up, but I actually do love organising and planning and I can multitask when needed, it's just not my preference.


In conclusion, I feel this research points out the ability to be able to multitask and plan not the personal preferences or reactions to doing it. As I used myself as an example earlier, I can multitask but I just don't like it and if someone asks me to do too many things, I do feel completely overwhelmed but I can still get the job done. On the flip side, there are other highly sensitive people out there who struggle to multitask from the get go and personal preference has nothing to do with it.


As with everything, there are always more factors to take into consideration and you will find yourself on a scale of to what extent you can multitask but I would love to hear if anything has clicked into place for you as a result of this research and this conversation. Please do leave a comment or reach out.


Kate x


References:



Oeri, N. S., Kunz, N. T., & Pluess, M. (2022). Variability in the Relationship Between Parenting and Executive Functions in Early Childhood: The Role of Environmental Sensitivity. OSF Preprints: https://osf.io/qmb5j




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