Hypochondriacal attitudes, pain sensitivity, and attentional bias

Paul Pauli, Michael Schwenzer, Stuart Brody, Harald Rau, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relation between hypochondriacal attitudes, thermal pain threshold, and attentional bias toward pain was examined in a non-clinical population (N= 28). Attentional bias was operationalized with a concentration-performance test, which subjects performed while connected to a pain stimulator. Subjects were informed that they would receive a painful stimulus during the second part of the test, while the first part was introduced as pain-free. The pain stimulus was never applied during the test phase. The expectancy of a forthcoming pain stimulus reduced the performance of high hypochondriacal subjects in both parts of the test. Low hypochondriacal subjects, on the other hand, displayed significantly better performance in the first, pain-free compared to the second, pain-related part of the test. Thermal pain thresholds were assessed at four measuring sites (thenar, neck, collar-bone, abdomen), but no relations with hypochondriasis sum scores and locus of pain stimulation were found. A stepwise multiple regression of pain threshold by individual Illness Attitude Scales (IAS) led to 66% of the variance being explained by the scales 'concern about pain', 'worry about illness', and 'disease phobia'. Results are discussed in terms of amplifying somatic style, preoccupation with or attentional bias toward bodily symptoms, and experimental induction of a hypochondriacal state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-752
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Psychology(all)


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