Sensory Preferences

Sensory Preferences

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Last month I raised the concept of sensory health and encouraged you to think about your own sensory health and also the sensory health of your home or workplace or organisation.

I thought it would be helpful to think more about our own sensory health by considering first our individual sensory preferences and how they impact upon everything we do.

There are different classifications systems when considering an individual sensory preferences, and for this newsletter I am going to use the classification system used by Winnie Dunn, the author of The Sensory Profile assessment questionnaires.

Winnie Dunn uses two concepts in her model of sensory processing: thresholds and regulating responses.


a brain neurone
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

A sensory threshold refers to how a person’s brain notices sensory stimuli. When people have low thresholds they notice sensory input very quickly. Conversely, when people have high thresholds, it takes a lot more sensory input to notice the sense. These thresholds operate on a continuum and can be different for different senses. For example, you may notice smells that others don’t notice at all ( a low threshold for smell), and you might love fast rollercoaster rides ( a high threshold for the movement (vestibular) sense) and you may react to noises (auditory) input in much the same way as most people (threshold somewhere in the middle).

Regulating responses

scared girl

The second concept in Winnie Dunn’s model is how we respond to the sensory input, how we regulate our response.  Some people have active regulating strategies and others have passive regulating strategies. 

An active regulating strategy means that you try to control the amount and type of sensory input. For example,  if you notice noise more than others you may have a strategy to manage noises such as humming to block out noises, or leaving a noisy room.

A passive regulating strategy means that you let the sensory input happen and then you react.  For example, you stay in the noisy room but become upset or angry.

Sensory patterns

In Dunn’s model, the way the brain responds (threshold) and the person’s self regulating responses are then put together to provide four categories for how people respond to sensory input.

  • Seekers have high brain thresholds and an active self regulating strategy
  • Bystanders have high brain thresholds and a passive self regulating strategy
  • Avoiders have low brain thresholds and an active self regulating strategy
  • Sensors have low brain thresholds and a passive self regulating strategy

One criticism of this model is that it is too simplistic. The danger when using one of The Sensory Profile assessment questionnaires is that it often puts people into all four categories. As with any assessment tool, careful and thoughtful analysis of the assessment information is needed rather than relying on computer generated scoring which generates a ‘cut and paste’ report that is pretty meaningless.

In the next newsletter, I will look at how these different sensory patterns impact on everyday life and relationships.


Living Sensationally by Winnie Dunn

In this book Winnie Dunn explains how your individual sensory patterns affect the way you react to everything that happens to you throughout the day.

If you would like to find out more about Winnie Dunn’s model, then this is an easy to read book.

There are some very interesting chapters on how our individual sensory patterns affect our relationships with some good strategies.


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Next course April 2024

Making SENSE of Behaviour
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Next course June 2024

Introduction to Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing Disorder
View Course Group 4