The HSP and Digital Media Literacy

Do any of these images ring familiar? Strike maybe, a nerve or two? Maybe not? But if you have discovered that you are a bothered or feel overwhelmed by the thought of sorting through so much information through news and social media outlets then maybe you are a Highly Sensitive Person or, an HSP. For the Highly Sensitive Person, (HSP) these images are familiar and not fondly so (Aron, 2019).

The HSP makes up a small percentage of individuals. Interestingly, common themes are seen in the personality and overall disposition of an HSP. Aron (2019), explains how conscientiousness and sensitivities to a variety of situations from relationship matters to loud noises, are examples (Aron, 2019). Digital media is among one of many context that may overstimulate the HSP depending on the delivery of the content, as one matter of discussion.

Digital Media Literacy is almost this live and learn lesson, literally, it seems most hold the mindset that when it comes to learning the ins and outs of technology, no matter the platform, it is like the ‘white elephant’ in the room. Do we talk about it, or do we ride it out, these may be the questions some parents ask themselves?  Or what about the adult learners considering a job in a highly automated profession that for example leans heavily on data that most adult learners would not know how to interpret to inform professional practice and especially in a learning environment.

In most learning settings, being a digitally literate citizen (ISTE Standard) is a prerequisite, there is no longer a paper application to mail in or paperback textbooks for your college course. But digital media literacy is not just knowing “how” to use technology either or having documents online and sent electronically; it is also asking questions about the information, or decoding. Being a literate citizen of digital media requires inquiry, thinking critically, and being conscientious about the responsibility right within our fingertips (Project Look Sharp, 2022).

Photo by Oziel Gu00f3mez on

Decoding information can be done in a variety of ways whether through analysis in questions asked not for the answer but for inquiry, to think critically. Or how about asking how the message makes you feel, what effect does the information have on you? Lastly, not exclusive but for the sake of the time, how is this message constructed to trigger a certain emotion or reaction from the audience. Just a few examples of ways for the HSP to counteract the manipulated constructs of digital media (Project Look Sharp, 2022).

According to the ISTE Standards, Knowledge Constructors, will “critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.” (ISTE, Standard 1:3, n.d.). Therefore, then, self-awareness and awareness of the nuances of media, how it is constructed, the intended message, and so much more are important considerations for the HSP especially but as a learner in a digital world. The HSP must guard against overstimulation or, cognitive overload (Jong, 2009).  

What is cognitive overload?

Cognitive overload is when too many cognitive processes are operating at lower levels rather than operating with fewer at higher levels (Gallagan, 2013). For example, if you there is too much text on the screen this can create cognitive overload. Consequently, hindering working memory where knowledge is no longer constructed. Remembering that cognitive overload impacts the workings of actual knowledge attainment and working memory (Springer, p. 23, 2013) is important to the HSP and educators of potential HSP’s.

Practical tips for educators. If we recall, media constructs information to influence the reader depending on the intent or motive of the creator (Project Look Sharp). Thus, one way to avoid cognitive overload is to design learning material differently. Construct digital media, with room left for the HSP learner to explore ways to decode and break down all the information. Furthermore, create curriculum that respects different learners. An example of this for the HSP would be pressured in a classroom setting, while being watched by peers or evaluators to perform certain activities but with background noise of their peers talking and giggling. This would be cognitive overload and lessen the learning experience for the HSP (Springer, p. 22, 2013).

Practical tips for the HSP when navigating digital media:

  • Decoding with questions – check out this handy resource.
  • Think critically, stop, calm down and then take in the information one bite at a time (Technology & the Interrupted Brain).
  • Limit the amount of media intake in all formats but especially digitally (Aron, 2017).

Finally, think on what Aristotle said about learning,

Be a free thinker and don’t accept everything you hear as truth. Be critical and evaluate what you believe.



Aron, Elizabeth. (2017). The Highly Sensitive Person. Broadway Books.

Galagan, Pat. (2013). Technology and the Interrupted Brain. cqtus-Technology_and_the_Interrupted.pdf

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). ISTE Standards. ISTE Standards: Educators | ISTE

Jong, Ton de. (2009). Cognitive Load Theory, Education Research, and instructional design: some food for thought. de Jong Cognitive Load (1).pdf

Project Look Sharp (2022). Categories and Samples Questions for Media Decoding. Key-Questions-for-Decoding Dec-21.pdf

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