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


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