©Arlene R. Taylor PhD

A desirable goal for most people is to identify your own sensory preference and figure out how you take in data most efficiently, and then build sufficient skills to access any and all of the sensory systems by choice, depending on what is required or would be most effective for the situation at hand. Knowing your own sensory preference, recognizing that of others, and matching your communication style to theirs whenever possible can enhance all your relationships and improve your career success.

Unless you make a conscious choice to do differently, you tend to communicate with others in your preferred sensory system. When your sensory preference matches theirs or the specific environment you tend to feel accepted, validated, smart, comfortable, and affirmed. When your sensory preference does not match, the opposite can occur. Communication that acknowledges sensory preference is a learned skill.

Here are six steps for increasing sensory system skills:

1. Knowledge

Identify your own sensory preference and then be alert to situations that could be improved through sensory system recognition and application.

2. Choice

Make a choice to exhibit whole-brain-nurturing behaviors, to use all three systems when communicating with others whenever possible.

3. Competency

Develop skills in each of the three sensory systems and become comfortable with each system.

4. Creativity

Be innovative and creative in using the sensory systems. Try something new! Brainstorm alternative ways to offer nurturing to others.

5. Implementation

Communicate with others in their sensory preference. Specifically offer nurturing in the other person’s sensory preference when you know what that is. When in doubt, use all three!

6. Acceptance

Recognize and graciously accept nurturing from others even when it doesn’t come to you in your preferred style, realizing that the other person is likely trying to communicate with you through his/her sensory preference. Otherwise you may miss a great deal of affirmation because it came to you in a nonpreferred sensory system.

Differences in sensory preference impact relationships and underlie many communication problems, situational misunderstandings, and feelings of discomfort. Understanding this can alert you to ways in which you can prevent some of these from occurring in the first place and can offer strategies for resolution when problems already exist.


If you were shamed, bruised, or ignored because of your sensory preference, or if you observed others being shamed, bruised, or ignored for their preference, the experience may have influenced your use of that specific sensory system. For example:

Did you have a visual preference, but were you:

  • Not looked at or given very little eye contact?
  • Subjected to angry facial expressions?
  • Provided with clothing that was unattractive, mismatched, torn, or out of style?
  • Deprived of a visually attractive environment or one that contained color?
  • Unable to experience museums or galleries?
  • Not given much in the way of objects to look at?
  • Shamed for your visual sense?

Did you have an auditory preference, but were you:

  • Subjected to the silent treatment?
  • Often told to be seen but not heard?
  • Subjected to harsh, loud, or cruel voice tones?
  • Exposed to annoying, irritating, or raucous sounds?
  • Unable to listen to music, join a choir, take music lessons, or attend concerts?
  • Subjected to an unpleasant environment in terms of sound?
  • Shamed for your auditory sense?

Did you have a kinesthetic preference, but were you:

  • Touched roughly or not touched at all?
  • Spanked, hit, swatted, jerked, or kicked? 
  • Provided with clothing that did not feel good against your skin?
  • Subjected to tickling or hair pulling?
  • Sexually or physically abused in childhood or adulthood (actually or vicariously)?
  • Subjected to unpleasant odors or textures?
  • Given food that didn’t taste or smell good or didn’t feel good in your mouth?
  • Shamed for your kinesthetic sense?

If you experienced these or similar situations in your life, you may have repressed your own innate sensory preference in favor of developing skills in another sensory system that was more acceptable in your environment or more rewarded by people who were important to you. If you discover this is the case, you can take steps to reown your sensory preference.

Remember that you may use all of your senses most (if not all) of the time. Preference refers to the type of sensory stimuli that usually gets your attention most quickly and that may require the least energy expenditure.

If you complete the Sensory Preference Assessment and two column scores are tied, one of the scores likely represents your preference, while the other represents skills you’ve developed in order to relate to someone significant in your life. If one of the tied scores is kinesthesia, consider the possibility that your innate preference is kinesthetic and that, for some reason, you have pulled back from it. If all scores are equal, you may have pulled in your own preference due to trauma or crisis, and developed higher numbers of skills in other sensory systems.

Use your scores as a starting point for evaluating your sensory history. Try to uncover and identify factors that may have influenced you to repress your sensory preference. Recall examples of specific situations and behaviors and make an educated guess.

Sample questions to get you started:

  • Was your sensory preference the same or different from that of your parents, siblings, or caregivers?
  • Which sensory system was emphasized in your home, school, church, or social club?
  • Were there opportunities for you to use, and be rewarded for using, your sensory preference?
  • Were you shamed for your sensory preference
  • Do you know what you need, want, and like in relation to your sensory preference, and are you able to state your needs and wants clearly and unemotionally?
  • Do you take responsibility for getting your needs (and some wants) met rather than expecting others to do this for you or even to read your mind, and do you readily ask for and accept sensory nurturing?
  • Is kinesthesia your first or second preference? If so, do you take responsibility for meeting your skin-hunger needs appropriately (refer to comments related to kinesthesia)?
  • Are you able to recognize the sensory communication attempts of others and accept the nurturing offered even when it doesn’t match your own sensory preference?
  • Is there some past sensory woundedness that you need to identify and heal?
  • Do you nurture your partner/child/best friend in a style that matches each one’s sensory preference?