Sensory Intolerance: Latent Structure and Psychopathologic Correlates

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Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Background: Sensory intolerance refers to high levels of distress evoked by everyday sounds (e.g., sounds of people chewing) or commonplace tactile sensations (e.g., sticky or greasy substances). Sensory intolerance may be associated with obsessive–compulsive (OC) symptoms, OC-related phenomena, and other forms of psychopathology. Sensory intolerance is not included as a syndrome in current diagnostic systems, although preliminary research suggests that it might be a distinct syndrome.

Objectives: First, to investigate the latent structure of sensory intolerance in adults; that is, to investigate whether it is syndrome-like in nature, in which auditory and tactile sensory intolerance co-occur and are associated with impaired functioning. Second, to investigate the psychopathologic correlates of sensory intolerance. In particular, to investigate whether sensory intolerance is associated with OC-related phenomena, as suggested by previous research.

Method: A sample of 534 community-based participants were recruited via's Mechanical Turk program. Participants completed measures of sensory intolerance, OC-related phenomena, and general psychopathology.

Results: Latent class analysis revealed two classes of individuals: those who were intolerant of both auditory and tactile stimuli (n = 150), and those who were relatively undisturbed by auditory or tactile stimuli (n = 384). Sensory-intolerant individuals, compared to those who were comparatively sensory tolerant, had greater scores on indices of general psychopathology, more severe OC symptoms, a higher likelihood of meeting caseness criteria for OC disorder, elevated scores on measures of OC-related dysfunctional beliefs, a greater tendency to report OC-related phenomena (e.g., a greater frequency of tics), and more impairment on indices of social and occupational functioning. Sensory-intolerant individuals had significantly higher scores on OC symptoms even after controlling for general psychopathology.

Conclusions: Consistent with recent research, these findings provide further evidence for a sensory intolerance syndrome. The findings provide a rationale for conducting future research for determining whether a sensory intolerance syndrome should be included in the diagnostic nomenclature.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.