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Am J Psychiatry 1939;96:609-622.
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The Department of Psychiatry and Mental Hygiene, Yale University School of Medicine.

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We have discussed four varieties of sensitivity which have the common denominator of a "considerable degree of emotionally charged impressibility." This we consider the essence of sensitivity. Sensitivity is experienced in different ways by the individual and by the group. Vulnerability is a dominating personality trait; the pattern of the vulnerable is withdrawal. The social group is disinterested in such non-participants. Touchiness is a spotted sort of sensitivity; it is manifested in episodic aggressiveness. The touchy is apt to project his hurt feelings. Although it is not a dominating personality trait, it is so common and familiar that the group tolerates it well. Empathy is characterized by cool curiosity; it permits the establishment of a one-sided relationship in which the empathetic contacts without being contacted himself. Empathy is socially accepted. Symphoria is sensitivity in the medium of human warmth; the communication and participation of the symphoric with his fellowmen determines the high esteem he enjoys among them.Emotional impressibility rests on hereditary-constitutional grounds, which does not mean that it can be dealt with as a Mendelian character. It is shaped within the whole makeup of the individual and definitely modified—essentially in its expression— by the social group in which the emotionally impressible person grows and develops. Any variety of sensitivity has a bearing on the individual's attitude towards other people, towards the group. This attitude is fed (given content) by social-cultural forces, by living and experiencing with and in a group. The group may either foster or prohibit overt expression of any of the varieties of sensitivity. It may taboo any kind and number of cultural factors which serve as sources and contents for the expression of emotional impressibility. Hence we have to judge an individual's sensitivity according to the social-cultural background on which he learns to express or to suppress it. The individual somehow realizes how his group expects him to behave. If he does not or cannot conform to the group's expectation, he feels uneasy, insecure, anxious—such feelings are obviously expressed by the vulnerable and the touchy. On the other hand, the empathetic and the symphoric conform, their very sensitivity is helpful in their overt adjustment; they can and do experience it, each on his own terms, as an asset of their personality and as an asset for the group.

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