Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 378–392 | Cite as

A Population-Based Twin Study of Parentally Reported Tactile and Auditory Defensiveness in Young Children

  • H. H. Goldsmith
  • C. A. Van Hulle
  • C. L. Arneson
  • J. E. Schreiber
  • M. A. Gernsbacher

Some adults and children exhibit defensive behaviors to tactile or auditory stimulation. These symptoms occur not only in subsets of children with ADHD, autism, and Fragile X syndrome, but also in the apparent absence of accompanying disorders. Relatively little research explores the correlates and antecedents of sensory defensiveness. Using a population-based sample of 1,394 toddler-aged twins, mothers reported on tactile and auditory defensiveness, temperament, and behavior problems. The incidence of defensive symptoms was widely distributed, with some accumulation of cases in the extreme range. Girls were overrepresented in the extreme tactile defensiveness group. Both auditory and tactile defensiveness were modestly associated with fearful temperament and anxiety, but they were relatively distinct from other common dimensions of childhood behavioral dysfunction. Twin correlations for the full range of scores and concordance rates for the extremes suggested moderate genetic influences, with some indication that the tactile domain might be more heritable than the auditory domain.


sensory defensiveness twins temperament genetics anxiety 



Support for the sensory defensiveness analyses was provided by the Wallace Foundation. The twin panel was supported by NIMH (R37-MH50560 and R01-MH59785 to Goldsmith). Infrastructure support was provided by the Waisman Center via a core grant from NICHD (P30-HD03352).


  1. Ahn, R. R., Miller, L. J., Milberger, S., & McIntosh, D. N. (2004). Prevalence of parents’ perceptions of sensory processing disorders among kindergarten children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 287–293.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  3. Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (1997). Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 345–368.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bar-Haim, Y., Marshall, P. J., Fox, N. A., Schorr, E. A., & Gordon-Salant, S. (2003). Mismatch negativity in socially withdrawn children. Biological Psychiatry, 54, 17–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baranek, G. T. (1999a). Autism during infancy: A retrospective video analysis of sensory–motor and social behaviors 9–12 months of age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 213–224.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baranek, G. T. (1999b). Sensory Supplement Questionnaire (SSQ). Unpublished manuscript, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  7. Belser, R. C., & Sudhalter, V. (1995). Arousal difficulties in males with Fragile X syndrome: A preliminary study. Developmental Brain Dysfunction, 8, 270–279.Google Scholar
  8. Bishop, G., Spence, S., & McDonald, C. (2003). Can parents and teachers provide a reliable and valid report of behavioral inhibition? Child Development, 74, 1899–1917.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bregman, J. D., Leckman, J. F., & Ort, S. I. (1988). Fragile X syndrome: Genetic predisposition to psychopathology. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 343–354.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, C., Cromwell, R. L., Filion, D., Dunn, W., & Tollefson, N. (2002). Sensory processing in schizophrenia: Missing and avoiding information. Schizophrenia Research, 55, 187–195.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carter, A. S., & Briggs-Gowan, M. J. (2000). Infant–toddler social and emotional assessment (ITSEA) manual. New Haven, CT: Yale University.Google Scholar
  12. Carter, A. S., Briggs-Gowan, M. J., Jones, S. M., & Little, T. D. (2003). The infant–toddler social and emotional assessment (ITSEA): Factor structure, reliability, and validity. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 495–514.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cohen, I. L. (1995). A theoretical analysis of the role of hyperarousal in the learning and behavior of Fragile X males. Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 1, 286–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Cohn, E., Miller, L., & Tickle-Degnen, L. (1999). Parental hopes for therapy outcomes: Children with sensory modulation disorders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56, 36–43.Google Scholar
  16. Cyphers, L. H., Phillips, K., & Fulker, D. W. (1990). Twin temperament during the transition from infancy to early childhood. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 29, 392–397.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Doucet, C., & Stelmack, R. M. (2000). An event-related potential analysis of extraversion and individual difference in cognitive processing and speed response execution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 956–964.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dunn, W. (1994). Performance of typical children on the sensory profile: An item analysis. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 48, 967–974.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Dunn, W. (1997). The impact of sensory processing abilities on the daily lives of young children and their families: A conceptual model. Infants and Young Children, 9, 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dunn, W. (1999). The sensory profile: Examiner's manual. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  21. Dunn, W. (2001). The sensations of everyday life: Empirical, theoretical, and pragmatic considerations, 2001 Eleanor Clarke Slagle lecture. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55, 608–620.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Dunn, W. (2002). The Infant/Toddler Sensory Profile manual. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  23. Dunn, W., & Bennett, D. (2002). Patterns of sensory processing in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 22, 4–15.Google Scholar
  24. Dunn, W., Myles, B. S., & Orr, S. (2002). Sensory processing issues associated with Asperger syndrome: A preliminary investigation. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56, 97–102.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Forget-Dubois, N., Pérusse, D., Turecki, G., Girard, A., Billette, J. M., Rouleau, G., et al. (2003). Diagnosing zygosity in infant twins: Physical similarity, genotyping, and chorionicity. Twin Research, 6, 479–485.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Goldsmith, H. H. (1991). A zygosity questionnaire for young twins: A research note. Behavior Genetics, 21, 257–269.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Goldsmith, H. H. (1996). Studying temperament via construction of the Toddler Behavior Assessment Questionnaire. Child Development, 67, 218–235.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Goldsmith, H. H. (2003). Genetics of emotional development. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences (pp. 300–319). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Goldsmith, H. H., Buss, K. A., & Lemery, K. S. (1997). Toddler and childhood temperament: Expanded content, stronger genetic evidence, new evidence for the importance of environment. Developmental Psychology, 33, 891–905.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Goldsmith, H. H., & Hewitt, E. (2003). Validity of parental report of temperament: Distinctions and needed research. Infant Behavior and Development, 26, 108–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Goldsmith, H. H., & Rothbart, M. (1991). Contemporary instruments for assessing early temperament by questionnaire and in the laboratory. In J. Strelau & A. Angleitner (Eds.), Explorations in temperament: International perspectives on theory and measurement (pp. 249–272). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  32. Hardin, J. W., & Hilbe, J. M. (2003). Generalized estimating equations. Boca Raton, FL: Chapman & Hall/CRC.Google Scholar
  33. Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders Work Groups. (2005). ICDL diagnostic manual for infancy and early childhood. Bethesda, MD: Author.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson-Ecker, C. L., & Parham, L. D. (2000). The evaluation of sensory processing: A validity study using contrasting groups. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 54, 494–503.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kagan, J. (1994). Galen's prophecy: Temperament in human nature. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  36. Kagan, J. (1998). Biology and the child. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & N. Eisenberg (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 177–235). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  37. Kientz, M., & Dunn, W. (1997). Comparison of the performance of children with and without autism on the Sensory Profile. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 51, 530–537.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Lane, S. (2002). Sensory modulation. In A. Bundy, S. Lane, & E. Murray (Eds), Sensory integration: Theory and practice (pp. 101–123). Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis.Google Scholar
  39. Lord, C. (1995). Follow-up of two year-olds referred for possible autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 36, 1365–1382.Google Scholar
  40. Mangelsdorf, S. C., Schoppe, S. J., & Buur, H. (2000). The meaning of parental reports: A contextual approach to the study of temperament and behavior problems in childhood. In V. J. Molfese & D. L. Molfese (Eds.), Temperament and personality development across the life span (pp. 121–140). Mahwah, NJ: Earlbaum.Google Scholar
  41. Mangeot, S. D., Miller, L. J., McIntosh, D. N., McGrath-Clarke, J., Simon, J., Hagerman, R. J., et al. (2001). Sensory modulation dysfunction in children with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 43, 399–406.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Matheny, A. P. J. (1987). Developmental research of twin's temperament. Acta Geneticae Medicae et Gemellologiae: Twin Research, 36, 135–143.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. McIntosh, D., Miller, L., Shyu, V., & Hagerman, R. (1999). Sensory modulation disruption, electrodermal response, and functional behaviors. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 41, 608–615.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McIntosh, D. N., Miller, L. J., Shyu, V., & Dunn, W. (1999). Overview of the Short Sensory Profile (SSP). In W. Dunn (Ed.), The Sensory Profile: Examiner's manual (pp. 59–73). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  45. Miller, L. J., McIntosh, D. N., McGrath, J., Shyu, M., Lampe, A. K., Taylor, F., et al. (1999). Electrodermal responses to sensory stimuli in individuals with Fragile X syndrome: A preliminary report. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 83, 268–279.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Neale, M. C., Boker, S. M., Xie, G., & Maes, H. H. (2001). Mx: Statistical modeling (5th ed.). Richmond, VA: Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University.Google Scholar
  47. Neale, M. C., & Cardon, L. (1992). Methodology for genetic studies of twins and families. Boston: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  48. Oniszczenko, W. (2002). The regulative theory of temperament traits: The study of twins during middle childhood. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 33, 143–149.Google Scholar
  49. Price, T., Freeman, B., Craig, I., Petrill, S., Ebersole, L., & Plomin, R. (2000). Infant zygosity can be assigned by parental report questionnaire. Twin Research, 3, 129–133.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Provost, B., & Oetter, P. (1993). The Sensory Rating Scale for Infants and Young Children: Development and reliability. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 13, 15–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rogers, S. J., Hepburn, S., & Wehner, E. (2003). Parent reports of sensory symptoms in toddlers with autism and those with other developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 631–642.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rothbart, M. K., & Ahadi, S. A. (1994). Temperament and the development of personality. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 55–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rothbart, M. K., Ahadi, S. A., Hershey, K., & Fisher, P. (2001). Investigations of temperament at three to seven years: The Children's Behavior Questionnaire. Child Development, 72, 1394–1408.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. (1998). Temperament. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.) & P. H. Mussen (Series Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional, & personality development (pp. 105–176). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  55. Rothbart, M. K., & Goldsmith, H. H. (1985). Three approaches to the study of infant temperament. Developmental Review, 5, 237–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schmitz, S., Cherny, S. S., & Fulker, D. W. (1998). Increase in power through multivariate analyses. Behavior Genetics, 28, 357–363.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schneider, M. L. (2004, February). Neurobiological correlates of sensory processing disorders in rhesus monkeys: Habituation, sensitization, and dopaminergic system function. Paper presented at the Neurobiology of Sensory Processing Disorders Conference, Boulder, CO.Google Scholar
  58. Stelmack, R. M., Achorn, E., & Michaud, A. (1977). Extraversion and individual differences in auditory evoked response. Psychophysiology, 14, 368–374.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Strelau, J. (1998). Temperament: A psychological perspective. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  60. Van Hulle, C. A., Lemery, K. S., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2002). Wisconsin Twin Panel. Twin Research, 5, 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. VerMaas Lee, J. R. (1999). Parent ratings of children with autism on the evaluation of sensory processing (ESP). Unpublished master's thesis, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  62. Wilbarger, P. (1977). Sensorimotor history. In E. W. Richter & P. C. Montgomery (Eds.), Sensorimotor integration for developmentally disabled children: A handbook. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  63. Zawadzki, B., Strelau, J., Wlodzimierz, O., Riemann, R., & Angleitner, A. (2001). Genetic and environmental influences on temperament. European Biologist, 6, 272–286.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. H. Goldsmith
    • 1
    • 2
  • C. A. Van Hulle
    • 1
  • C. L. Arneson
    • 1
  • J. E. Schreiber
    • 1
  • M. A. Gernsbacher
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Waisman CenterUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations