Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body's senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. There are many environmental elements that impact an individual. Examples of these elements are urbanization, crowding, noise, mass media, technology, and the explosive growth of information. Sensory overload is commonly associated with sensory processing disorder. Like its opposite sensory deprivation, it is being used as a means of torture.
There are a wide variety of symptoms that have been found to be associated with sensory overload. These symptoms can occur in both children and adults. Some of these symptoms are:
Sensory overload can result from the overstimulation of any of the senses.
Sensory overload has been found to be associated with other disorders such as:
There are many different ways to treat sensory overload. One way to reduce this tension is to participate in occupational therapy; however, there are many ways for people with symptoms to reduce it themselves. Being able to identify one's own triggers of sensory overload can help reduce, eliminate, or avoid them. Most often the quickest way to ease sensory overload symptoms is to remove oneself from the situation. Deep pressure against the skin combined with proprioceptive input that stimulates the receptors in the joints and ligaments often calms the nervous system. Reducing sensory input such as eliminating distressing sounds and lowering the lights can help. Calming, focusing music works for some. If a quick break does not relieve the problem, an extended rest is advised. People with sensory processing issues may benefit from a sensory diet of activities and accommodations designed to prevent sensory overload and retrain the brain to process sensory input more typically. It is important in situations of sensory overload to calm oneself and return to a normal level.
There are two different methods to prevent sensory overload: avoidance and setting limits. The process of avoidance involves creating a more quiet and orderly environment. This includes keeping the noise to a minimum and reducing the sense of clutter. To prevent sensory overload, it is important to rest before big events and focus your attention and energy on one thing at a time. Setting limits involves restricting the amount of time spent on various activities and selecting settings to carefully avoid crowds and noise. One may also limit interactions with specific people to help prevent sensory overload.
It can be difficult to distinguish and understand information when experiencing sensory overload. Even such meaningless stimuli such as white noise or flickering lights may induce sensory overload. Sensory overload is common among consumers as many corporations compete with each other especially when advertising. Advertisers will use the best colours, words, sounds, textures, designs and much more to get the attention of a customer. This can influence the consumer, as he or she will be drawn to a product that is more attention grabbing. However, policy makers and advertisers must be aware that too much information or attention-grabbing products can cause sensory overload.
Implications of a public policy in regards to information overload have two main assumptions. The assumptions the policymakers have are, first, to assume that consumers have a great deal of processing capacity and a great deal of time to process information. Secondly, consumers can always absorb the information without serious concern about how much information has been presented. As researchers have pointed out, policymakers should better understand the difference between the process and availability of information. This will help decrease the possibility of information overload. In some cases, the time to process such information in a commercial can be 6 out of 30 seconds. This can lead consumers confused and overloaded with such fast paced information thrown at them. To understand how consumers process information three factors must be analyzed. Factors such as the amount of information given, the source of corrective information and the way in which it is all presented to the consumer. However, it should be noted that different types of media have different processing demands. An optimal outcome for policy makers to influence advertisers to try is to present information through a T.V. commercial stating simple facts about a product and then encourage the audience to check out their website for more details. Therefore, their quick processing time of a commercial was not overloaded with information thus saving the consumer from sensory overload.
Consumers today must learn to learn to cope with overloading and an abundance of information, through the radio, billboards, television, newspapers and much more. Information is everywhere and being thrown at consumers from every angle and direction. Therefore, Naresh K. Malhotra, the author of Information and Sensory Overload presents the following guidelines. First, consumers must try to limit the intake of external information and sensory inputs to avoid sensory overload. This can be done by tuning out irrelevant information presented by the media and marketers to get the attention of the consumer. Second, record important information externally rather than mentally. Information can be easily forgotten mentally once the individual becomes overloaded by their sense. Thus it is recommended for a consumer to write down important information rather than store it mentally. Third, when examining a product, do not overload their senses by examining more than five products at a time. This will lead to confusion, frustration and possibly leading to the "correct" choice according to the marketers. Fourth, process information where there is less irrelevant information around. This will eliminate external information and sensory distractions such as white noise and other information presented in an environment. Finally, it is important to make consuming a pleasant and relaxed experience. This will help diminish the stress, overwhelming feeling, and experience of sensory overload.
Using the human sense in marketing can help create a personal unique experience for the customer. Most commonly, marketers will take advantage of the humans four out of five senses to increase the amount of information being presented to the customer.
Not many studies have been done on sensory overload, but one example of a sensory overload study was reported by Lipowski (1975) as part of his research review on the topic that discussed the work done by Japanese researchers at Tohoku University. The Tohoku researchers exposed their subjects to intense visual and auditory stimuli presented randomly in a condition of confinement ranging in duration from 3 to 5 hours. Subjects showed heightened and sustained arousal as well as mood changes such as aggression, anxiety, and sadness. These results have helped open the door to further research on sensory overload.
Sociologist Georg Simmel contributed to the description of sensory overload in his 1903 essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life." Simmel describes an urban landscape of constant sensory stimuli against which the city-dweller must create a barrier in order to remain sane. For Simmel, the sensory overload of modern urban life depletes the body's reservoirs of energy, leading, among other things, to a jaded or blasé [blasiert] mentality and an calculating, instrumentalizing approach to others. Simmel's approach can be compared to Freud's writings on Shell shock as well as Walter Benjamin's analysis of "shock" and urban life in his 1939 essay "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire."