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Persistent physical symptoms as perceptual dysregulation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Published copy (DOI)


  • P. Henningsen
  • H. Gündel
  • Willem J Kop
  • Bernd Löwe
  • Alexandra Martin
  • W. Rief
  • J.G.M. Rosmalen
  • Arne Schröder
  • C.M. van der Feltz-Cornelis
  • Omer Van den Bergh


Publication details

JournalPsychosomatic medicine
DatePublished - 1 Jun 2018
Issue number5
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)422-432
Original languageEnglish


ObjectiveThe mechanisms underlying the perception and experience of persistent physical symptoms are not well understood, and in the models, the specific relevance of peripheral input versus central processing, or of neurobiological versus psychosocial factors in general, is not clear.In this article, we propose a model for this clinical phenomenon that is designed to be coherent with an underlying, relatively new model of the normal brain functions involved in the experience of bodily signals.MethodsBased on a review of recent literature we describe central elements of this model and its clinical implications.ResultsIn the model the brain is seen as an active predictive processing or inferential device rather than one that is passively waiting for sensory input. A central aspect of the model is the attempt of the brain to minimize prediction errors that result from constant comparisons of predictions and sensory input. Two possibilities exist: adaptation of the generative model underlying the predictions or alteration of the sensory input via autonomic nervous activation (in the case of interoception). Following this model, persistent physical symptoms can be described as "failures of inference" and clinically well known factors like expectation are assigned a role, not "only" in the later amplification of bodily signals, but in the very basis of symptom perception.ConclusionsWe discuss therapeutic implications of such a model including new interpretations for established treatments as well as new options like virtual reality techniques combining exteroceptive and interoceptive informations.

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