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Int Rev Psychiatry. 2006 Feb;18(1):25-33.

Somatization, somatosensory amplification, attribution styles and illness behaviour: a review.

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  • 1Avondale unit, Royal Preston Hospital, Preston, UK.


Somatic symptoms have been conceptualized in many different ways in literature. Current classifications mainly focus on the numbers of symptoms, with relative neglect of the underlying psychopathology. Researchers have emphasized the importance of a number of experiential, perceptual and cognitive-behavioural aspects of somatization. This review focuses on existing literature on the role of somatosensory amplification, attribution styles, and illness behaviour in somatization. Evidence suggests that somatosensory amplification is neither sensitive nor specific to somatizing states, and that other factors like anxiety, depression, neuroticism, alexithymia may also have an influence. Attribution research supports the existence of multiple causal attributions, which are related to the numbers of somatic symptoms. While somatizing patients have more organic attributions, depressed patients have more psychological attributions. A global somatic attribution style is associated with the number of obscure somatic symptoms, while a psychological attribution style is associated with both--psychological and somatic-- symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are conflicting findings with respect to the role of normalizing attributions in reducing physician recognition of anxiety and depression. Specific symptom attributions appear to explain physician recognition of psychological distress, but global attribution styles do not appear to explain any further variance in physician recognition beyond that explained by specific causal attributions. Illness behaviour has been studied in two distinct ways in literature. Research focusing on attendance rates as a form of illness behaviour suggests that somatization is associated with high levels of health care utilization. There is also some evidence that health care utilization, amplification and attributions styles may be interrelated among somatizing patients. More structured ways to assess illness behaviour have found high levels of abnormal illness behaviour in this population. Overall, research appears to suggest a complex (and as yet unclear) relationship between somatic symptoms and underlying cognitions/illness behaviours. While it is clear that somatization is closely related to a number of perceptual and cognitive-behavioural factors, the precise nature of these relationships are yet to be elucidated.

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