Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy

Department or Program

Occupational Therapy

Department or Program Chair

Julia Wilbarger PhD, OTR/L

First Reader

Julia Wilbarger, PhD, OTR/L

Second Reader

Joann Figone, MS, OTR/L


Objective: Sensory processing issues can have a large negative impact on the ability to participate in daily occupations such as ADLs, access to work, school and leisure environments, and social interactions (Dunn, 2001). The evidence documenting sensory processing issues in adults is sparse. Physiological information can be used as objective evidence to support the claim that those with over-responsivity to sensations are experiencing their environment differently than the typical population. Understanding more about sensory processing in adults may lead to increased recognition of the problem and more opportunities for intervention to increase occupational participation. The purpose of this quantitative study compared the physiological responses to sensation in people who self-report as high in sensory sensitivity compared to people who self-report as low in sensory sensitivity.

Method: Using a quasi-experimental design, physiological responses to sensation in typical adults was measured. The use of the Sensory Profile assessment as a behavioral self-reported measure was used as a pretest and the Sensory Challenge Protocol was used as our physiological outcome measure to quantify participants’ physiological responses to sensation.

Results: No significant differences were shown between experimental and control groups in EDR responses to stimuli. Based on the sensory profile, participants’ in the experimental group who identified as sensory sensitive had higher EDR responses to more the intense sensations, such as mower (1.3), feather (1.8), and camphor (1.7). There is a significant correlation between low registration and sensory sensitive (.678), sensory avoidant (.847) and sensory defensive (.817) for the experimental group’s self-reported scores on the Sensory Profile supporting the idea that people who have sensory sensitivities may also suppress responses to sensation.

Conclusion: There are differential, meaningful patterns observed in how people with sensory sensitivities are responding to sensations. There is high variability in individuals’ personal understanding of their own sensory sensitivities and what sensory stimuli they are responding to. Therefore, it is important to know and understand what certain people in the general population do because overtime it can lead to maladaptive behaviors in daily functioning.