Does Sensory-Processing Sensitivity Moderate the Effect of Household Chaos on Caregiver Sensitivity? An Experimental Design

Suzanne M. Andeweg, F. Fenne Bodrij, Marielle J. L. Prevoo, Ralph C. A. Rippe, Lenneke R. A. Alink*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous research has linked higher levels of household chaos to parenting problems, but it is not clear whether household chaos actually causes parenting problems. In this study, we used an experimental design in which levels of household chaos were manipulated to test the effect of household chaos on caregiver sensitivity. As sensory-processing sensitivity has been linked to the perception of household chaos, we also tested whether household chaos has a stronger effect on participants with higher sensory-processing sensitivity. Ninety-six young adults (nonparents) visited our lab twice and took care of an infant simulator in a lab furnished like a living room. In the neutral condition the room was orderly and calm, and in the chaos condition it was cluttered, noisy and smaller (order counterbalanced). Caregiver sensitivity was observed, and sensory-processing sensitivity was measured through questionnaires and observational data. Multilevel modeling showed caregiver sensitivity decreased over time in both conditions and that condition had a small effect on caregiver sensitivity, with sensitivity being lower in the chaos condition. We found that participants with higher sensory sensitivity decreased faster in the chaos condition than in the neutral condition. According to our findings, household chaos leads to less positive caregiving behavior and parents with higher sensory sensitivity may be more affected by household chaos. Thus, reducing household chaos may be effective in promoting positive parenting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-365
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date25 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • household chaos
  • parenting
  • sensitivity
  • sensory-processing sensitivity
  • experiment

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