Sensory perception is known to be affected in a range of psychological disorders, but it also varies with sub-clinical personality traits. For example, we have previously found that normal variation in the personality trait "cognitive disorganisation" is correlated with a person’s ability to detect a faint visual target. While perceptual differences in in clinical populations are well researched, whether and how they are associated with normal personality traits is relatively unknown. Further, the extent to which individual differences in perceptual processing relate to symptoms of psychopathology occurring in non-clinical populations has also not been systematically investigated.
Research Questions / Hypotheses
This study aims to examine whether normal variation in so-called ‘schizotypal’ personality trait dimensions, ‘sensory processing sensitivity’ trait dimensions, and symptoms of psychopathology are related to performance in various forms of perceptual tasks in which deficits have been associated previously with psychological disorder.
Ninety REP participants completed the study in Semester 2, 2020. No exclusions have been applied.
Participants in this study filled out a questionnaire measuring schizotypy, a range of completely normal personality characteristics which resemble some of those seen in schizophrenia, and questionnaires measuring sensory processing sensitivity, relating to the way people respond to their environment. They also answered a questionnaire about traits related to autism, some questionnaires regarding their experience with symptoms of depression and anxiety, previous use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances, and some questions regarding attention, level of stress, hearing, and handedness. A second, laboratory-based part of the study was not completed owing to COVID-19 restrictions. In the laboratory, participants would have completed a vision screen, then read words aloud—a measure of verbal fluency—and then made judgments about patterns on a computer screen and tones presented through headphones.
The results of the questionnaire component of the study are currently being analysed. We are most interested in (i) understanding how different personality traits are related to self-reports of sensory sensitivity, and (ii) how different forms of self-reported sensory sensitivity relate to each other. We are using regression (i.e., quantifying and characterising the relationship between one variable and a set of predictor variables) and factor-analytic (i.e., describing covariation among the measured variables in terms of a smaller set of variables) techniques in these analyses.
These findings will help us understand how personality factors are related to sensory sensitivity, and uncover whether there are common factors that underlie different forms of self-reported sensitivity. This will be used to inform the next stage of the study, which will also include the objective, laboratory-based assessments of sensitivity. We plan to report the results of the overall study at conferences and in journal articles. We will also write a plain-language explanation of the study and its findings to publish on our website.