Relationship between sensory processing sensitivity and hypochondriacal features and the moderating role of somatic symptoms


  • Siemen Dal



Background. Only very little is known about the etiology of hypochondriasis, a mental disorder characterized by the preoccupied beliefs or fears of having a serious disease or being in a life-threatening condition and the elevated focus on own physical symptoms. A relatively new concept named sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is about the sensitivity towards stimuli and is related to an elevated self-focus. Due to its relation with an elevated self-focus, SPS might be related to hypochondriacal features. The present study investigated this relationship. Moreover, in the light of recent reformulation of hypochondriasis in the DSM-5 in illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder, this study also examined how the presence of somatic complaints affects the relationship between SPS and hypochondriacal features. Methods. A cross-sectional questionnaire study was conducted in which 302 participants from the general population were enrolled. These participants were recruited through several ways online and at several physical locations. Hypochondriacal fears and beliefs were assessed using the Illness Attitudes Scale (IAS), while SPS was assessed using the Highly Sensitive Person scale (HSP). At last, having physical complaints was assessed with descriptive items on having complaints and their duration and location. Results. The present study found that HSP and its subscales Ease of Excitation and Low Sensory Threshold were positively and significantly correlated to IAS and its subscales Health Anxiety and Illness Behavior. In contrast, it was found that the Aesthetic Sensitivity subscale of the HSP scale was not correlated to IAS or its subscales. Furthermore, a moderation test using linear regression analyses showed that having somatic complaints did not moderate the relationship between HSP and IAS. Having specifically chronic somatic complaints, however, did tend to moderate this relationship. Conclusion. The present study is the first study to show the importance of a high SPS in having hypochondriacal fears and beliefs and the role of somatic complaints in this relationship. However, future research is needed to further understand this relationship and to investigate its causality


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, text revision (DSM-IV-TR): American Psychiatric Association.

Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (1997). Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality. Journal of personality and social psychology, 73(2), 345.

Barsky, A. J., Wool, C., Barnett, M. C., & Cleary, P. D. (1994). Histories of childhood trauma in adult hypochondriacal patients. The American journal of psychiatry.

Benham, G. (2006). The highly sensitive person: Stress and physical symptom reports. Personality and individual differences, 40(7), 1433-1440.

Bianchi, G. (1971). Origins of disease phobia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 5(4), 241-257.

Hofmann, S. G., & Bitran, S. (2007). Sensory-processing sensitivity in social anxiety disorder: relationship to harm avoidance and diagnostic subtypes. Journal of anxiety disorders, 21(7), 944-954.

Liss, M., Mailloux, J., & Erchull, M. J. (2008). The relationships between sensory processing sensitivity, alexithymia, autism, depression, and anxiety. Personality and individual differences, 45(3), 255-259.

Liss, M., Timmel, L., Baxley, K., & Killingsworth, P. (2005). Sensory processing sensitivity and its relation to parental bonding, anxiety, and depression. Personality and individual differences, 39(8), 1429-1439.

Mabe, P. A., Hobson, D. P., Jones, L. R., & Jarvis, R. G. (1988). Hypochondriacal traits in medical inpatients. General Hospital Psychiatry, 10(4), 236-244.

Mayo Clinic. DSM-5 redefines hypochondriasis.

Meyer, B., & Carver, C. S. (2000). Negative childhood accounts, sensitivity, and pessimism: A study of avoidant personality disorder features in college students. Journal of Personality Disorders, 14(3), 233-248.

Neal, J. A., Edelmann, R. J., & Glachan, M. (2002). Behavioural inhibition and symptoms of anxiety and depression: Is there a specific relationship with social phobia? British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 41(4), 361-374.

Noyes, R., Stuart, S., Langbehn, D. R., Happel, R. L., Longley, S. L., & Yagla, S. J. (2002). Childhood antecedents of hypochondriasis. Psychosomatics, 43(4), 282-289.

Riley III, J. L., & Robinson, M. E. (1998). Validity of MMPI-2 profiles in chronic back pain patients: Differences in path models of coping and somatization. The Clinical journal of pain, 14(4), 324-335.

Sirri, L., Grandi, S., & Fava, G. A. (2007). The Illness Attitude Scales. A clinimetric index for assessing hypochondriacal fears and beliefs. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 77(6), 337-350.

K. A., McCabe, S. B., & Woody, E. Z. (2006). A psychometric evaluation of the Highly Sensitive Person Scale: The components of sensory-processing sensitivity and their relation to the BIS/BAS and “Big Five”. Personality and individual differences, 40(6), 1269-1279.

Speckens, A. E. M., & Van Hemert, A. M. MENINGEN OVER ZIEKTE EN GEZONDHEID. from