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Soc Sci Med. 2003 Dec;57(12):2343-54.

A symptom perception approach to common physical symptoms.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


This study investigated variables assumed to influence the symptom perception process, as well as the sociodemographic variables of age, gender and socioeconomic status, regarding their relation to common physical symptoms. In addition, it ascertained the predictors of two symptom measurement methods (prospective and retrospective). A group of 152 men and women completed a standardized interview as well as several questionnaires and kept a diary for 4 weeks. Path analyses showed an adequate data fit irrespective of symptom measure. Two main routes to both prospectively and retrospectively measured physical symptoms were found: one from more negative affectivity via a stronger tendency to selective attention and the other from unemployment or a higher number of chronic diseases via a lower quantity of external information. The effect of age on physical symptoms was mediated by the number of chronic diseases and the tendency to selectively attend to bodily sensations. The effects on physical symptoms proved to depend partly on the method of symptom measurement and varied according to the mediating role of negative mood and the tendency to make psychological attributions. Overall, this study highlights the importance of estimating the independent contribution of variables to the experience of common physical symptoms in a comprehensive model while taking into account the method of symptom measurement. In addition, it demonstrates the usefulness of a symptom perception approach for further study.

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