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Are you anxious, introverted or just a ‘highly sensitive person’?

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Kanye West and Lorde say they are HSPs. What’s the science behind this newly popular label for understanding our ability to process feelings?

Do you find yourself noticing faint sensations that no one else can perceive? Are you startled easily? And is your mood easily swayed by the feelings of the people around you? If so, you may be a highly sensitive person (HSP), a personality profile that is of increasing interest to both scientists and armchair psychologists.

As an HSP myself, the trait is most obvious in my embarrassing squeamishness; at the merest hint of violence or pain on TV, I will reflexively cover my eyes with my hands. For other HSPs, their greater sensitivity may be especially evident in an intolerance of strong scents or bright lights, or great discomfort in large crowds.

Do you find yourself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where you can have some privacy and relief from stimulation?

When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment do you tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (such as changing the lighting or the seating)?

Do you find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once?

Does being very hungry create a strong reaction in you, disrupting your concentration or mood?

Are you deeply moved by the arts or music?

David Robson’s The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life is published by Canongate (£18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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