Vantage Sensitivity: We Don't All Benefit Equally From Positive Events

How do the most sensitive people experience positive events? Vantage sensitivity theory has a great deal to say on the subject.
Vantage Sensitivity: We Don't All Benefit Equally From Positive Events
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Vantage sensitivity has recently generated a great deal of recent interest in the scientific community. In fact, it could explain why certain therapies or psychological approaches don’t work for everyone. Indeed, often, strategies aimed at generating well-being in humans aren’t useful for everyone.

This also corresponds to real life. Nevertheless, we tend to take it for granted that when an experience is adverse, we all experience it in the same way. Likewise, we also tend to assume that every positive and joyful event generates happiness in everyone. However, this isn’t the case.

As human beings, we’re diverse, complex, and highly unique. For example, we know that highly sensitive people especially benefit from positive experiences. As a matter of fact, their emotional threshold is so intense that they appreciate any small event, circumstance, or nuance of singular positivity, and their lives are enriched by it. The same doesn’t happen in personalities without this trait.

Vantage sensitivity allows us to develop more personalized psychological support programs.

woman experiencing Vantage sensitivity
People differ in their responses to positive experiences: some benefit more and others less.

Vantage sensitivity theory and the uniqueness of positive experiences

The vantage theory of sensitivity was coined by Michael Pluess, a professor of psychology at Queen Mary University of London. From a scientific point of view, it’s been demonstrated that some people are more vulnerable to adversity than others. They’re men and women who process stressful situations more intensely and who show poorer coping responses.

However, until now, experiences of positive valence haven’t been studied. So, do we all live in the same way? Do we all benefit equally from apparently favorable circumstances, approaches, and dynamics?

As we mentioned earlier, the answer is no. Research has demonstrated that there are genetic, physiological, and psychological characteristics that modulate responses to positive experiences. This will make some people benefit more from certain therapeutic strategies. Let’s take a closer look.

The fact that there are those who are more sensitive to adverse events or to more positive circumstances is due to genetic factors.

Highly sensitive people benefit more from positive experiences

In order to test the validity of the Vantage theory, an interesting experiment was conducted in various secondary schools in London. First, girls between the ages of 11 and 13 who exhibited the trait of high sensitivity were identified. Later, another group was created with girls without this characteristic.

Subsequently, a program was designed in several secondary schools to promote resilience and facilitate strategies to avoid disorders such as depression. The objective was to train the girls so that they could deal with despair, stress, frustration, discouragement, etc. The program lasted 12 weeks and the results were analyzed 12 months later. They were extremely significant.

In fact, this program proved to be more enriching for the girls with high sensitivity. They developed good skills to deal with many of the psychological dimensions that mediate depressive disorder.

On the other hand, a number of adolescents without the high-sensitivity trait demonstrated what experts called vantage resistance. In other words, they didn’t benefit so much by a program and therapeutic strategy aimed at generating psychological well-being. In fact, a large variability could be seen.

Vantage sensitivity and resistant people

Research on vantage sensitivity has highlighted the genetic peculiarities of highly sensitive people. On the one hand, we know that these people process stressful and adverse events with greater intensity. They might become blocked or suffer states of greater anxiety or helplessness.

On the other hand, the highly sensitive population can benefit from programs aimed at training skills to manage their emotions. It’s also been evidenced that they live small experiences and positive stimuli in a more significant way.

However, the population without the highly sensitive trait (80 percent of society) doesn’t always experience events of positive valence in a gratifying way. There’s also no 100 percent guarantee that certain therapeutic approaches will be of benefit to them. Indeed, some people show what we now know as vantage resistance or a low sensitivity to experiences with a positive purpose.

There are vulnerable people who react helplessly to difficulties. There are also people who don’t respond as expected in pleasant, positive circumstances and for therapeutic purposes.

sunflower representing Vantage sensitivity
People also differ in their reactions to positive experiences.

Why don’t we all react in the same way to the same circumstances?

If a group of people is exposed to an unpleasant, stressful, or even dramatic situation, not all of them will react in the same way. The same thing happens in relaxed and even joyous situations. There are some who completely reject them, some who don’t particularly enjoy them, and there are others who find them magical and unforgettable.

Why is this? What mechanisms make two siblings respond differently to the same event? The key lies in genetic and neurological factors. It’s well known that there are resilient personalities and those who are more vulnerable.

With the vantage theory of sensitivity, we’ve discovered that vulnerability doesn’t only refer to a greater emotional impact in the face of stressful events. As a matter of fact, those who don’t react to positivity and who don’t benefit from strategies aimed at providing help or well-being are also vulnerable. This tends to suggest there’s something amiss.

Vantage sensitivity theory is relatively new. Therefore, more investigation is needed in order to design appropriate support strategies for everyone.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • de Villiers, Bernadette et al. “Vantage sensitivity: a framework for individual differences in response to psychological intervention.” Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology vol. 53,6 (2018): 545-554. doi:10.1007/s00127-017-1471-0
  • Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2013). Vantage Sensitivity: Individual Differences in Response to Positive Experiences. Psychological Bulletin, 139(4), 901-916.
  • Pluess, M., & Boniwell, I. (2015). Sensory-Processing Sensitivity predicts treatment response to a school-based depression prevention program: Evidence of Vantage Sensitivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 82(0), 40-45.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.