On Sensitivity On Sensitivity
Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda, photo: courtesy of the SWPS Press Office

On Sensitivity

A conversation about sensitivity and empathy
Dagny Kurdwanowska
time 10 minutes

Human sensitivity and empathy can be studied, measured, and shared. The psychologist and biologist Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda, PhD, DSc, an Associate Professor at SWPS University in Warsaw, Poland, discusses what modern science knows about these phenomena in an interview with Dagny Kurdwanowska.

CT scans of the brain are useful not only in medicine but also in the study of human emotions and behavior. Although emotions and behavior largely depend on cultural conditioning, they nevertheless rest on a foundation of pure biology.

Dagny Kurdwanowska: “Sensitivity” is a very broad term—it can be a synonym for empathy, for example, or sometimes even for sadness. But what is it really?

Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda: Sensitivity is indeed a broad concept that turns up in a variety of scientific fields: psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience, as well as evolutionary biology. It also has certain colloquial meanings, as you mentioned. But from a purely scientific point of view, the definition that seems the most on-target to me states that sensitivity is an increased reactivity to stimuli—stimuli reaching us both from outside, such as a sound, an image, a friend’s anger, or the joy of someone close, and from within: everything we feel, think, interpret, or imagine. Based on how our body reacts to these stimuli, how it processes them, and how it is influenced by them, we can talk about differing degrees of sensitivity.

Does there exist a scale on which a normal or average level of sensitivity can be identified as a kind of reference point, or are our subjective perceptions sufficient here?

Psychology has produced a variety of tools for measuring sensitivity. There are also quite


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