The sensations of everyday life: empirical, theoretical, and pragmatic considerations

Am J Occup Ther. 2001 Nov-Dec;55(6):608-20. doi: 10.5014/ajot.55.6.608.


The experience of being human is embedded in sensory events of everyday life. This lecture reviews sensory processing literature, including neuroscience and social science perspectives. Introduced is Dunns Model of Sensory Processing, and the evidence supporting this model is summarized. Specifically, using Sensory Profile questionnaires (i.e., items describing responses to sensory events in daily life; persons mark the frequency of each behavior), persons birth to 90 years of age demonstrate four sensory processing patterns: sensory seeking, sensory avoiding, sensory sensitivity, and low registration. These patterns are based on a persons neurological thresholds and self-regulation strategies. Psychophysiology studies verify these sensory processing patterns; persons with strong preferences in each pattern also have unique patterns of habituation and responsivity in skin conductance. Studies also indicate that persons with disabilities respond differently than peers on these questionnaires, suggesting underlying poor sensory processing in certain disorders, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental delays, and schizophrenia. The author proposes relationships between sensory processing and temperament and personality traits. The four categories of temperament share some consistency with the four sensory processing patterns described in Dunn's model. As with temperament, each person has some level of responsiveness within each sensory processing preference (i.e., a certain amount of seeking, avoiding, etc., not one or the other). The author suggests that one's sensory processing preferences simultaneously reflect his or her nervous system needs and form the basis for the manifestation of temperament and personality. The final section of this lecture outlines parameters for developing best practice that supports interventions based on this knowledge.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Human Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Temperament*