Psychological and Environmental Factors in the Onset of Musician’s Focal Dystonia: An Exploratory Grounded Theory Study

Anna Detari, Hauke Egermann

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Musician’s Focal Dystonia (MFD) is a neurological disorder with unknown pathophysiology, affecting highly skilled musicians. It has been suggested in recent studies that apart from genetic predisposition and the repetition itself, negative psychological traits and environmental contributors might be risk factors. The current study’s aim was to explore these in more detail to understand their role in the onset.

Due to the study’s exploratory nature, a qualitative constructivist Grounded Theory (GT) design was chosen, with the goal of generating a theory which emerges directly from the data. 12 MFD sufferers (4 females, mean age=37.5 years) were interviewed for the study. The inclusion criteria were to be a professional musician and to have been diagnosed with MFD by a medical professional. The participants were recruited from online support groups on a voluntary basis. Each interview lasted for approx. 90 minutes and their transcripts were coded following the methodology of GT.

Apart from previously identified negative traits, such as anxiety, perfectionism, and neuroticism, the findings also include environmental factors, especially the negative influence of instrumental teachers. Many participants reported unattainable demands, negative emotional climate, and technique-focused teaching in their instrumental lessons. Furthermore, these characteristics seemed to have influenced their behaviours after their studies were finished, in the form of unhealthy practice habits and negative perfectionism. In addition, many participants reported personal or professional trauma before the onset of the condition.

These findings support the theory that MFD is a multifaceted condition which could partially originate from problematic psychological traits. It also suggests that environmental factors – especially the educational approach – might be more influential than previously thought. This might have further implications not only for the current research but for the treatment strategies as well. In order to further explore these factors, the researchers are currently conducting a second interview study with medical professionals. The theoretical framework based on the findings of both studies will subsequently inform a deductive quasi-experimental study, comparing MFD sufferers with healthy control musicians.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event4th International Congress on Treatment of Dystonia - Hannover, Germany
Duration: 8 May 2019 → …


Conference4th International Congress on Treatment of Dystonia
Period8/05/19 → …

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