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Health anxiety and attentional bias towards external stimuli

By Debbie Hanson

Abstract

Objectives - Hypochondriasis and health anxiety have much in common. Both are classified as somatoform disorders within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), however anxiety is often the predominant clinical feature. The chronic nature of the conditions can seriously interfere with an individual’s quality of life and current approaches to treatment are often ineffective. Attentional bias towards bodily symptoms is a defining feature of hypochondriasis and health anxiety and thus may contribute to the persistence of the conditions. Evidence for attentional bias towards external health/illness-related stimuli however is contradictory. The current study used the change blindness paradigm to examine the association between attentional bias towards external health/illness-related stimuli and health anxiety, in a non-clinical population. The clinical utility of the change blindness paradigm as a research tool for clinical psychologists was also evaluated. \ud Design - The change blindness experimental paradigm was used to examine the association between attentional bias towards health/illness-related stimuli and level of health anxiety. Method - 80 participants were recruited who were all members of a private health club in the Midlands. Levels of health anxiety were measured using the Short Health Anxiety Inventory. The change blindness paradigm was implemented within the private health club and participants’ reaction times in detecting changes to external health/illness-related and neutral items were recorded. Results - No association was found between attentional bias towards health/illness-related stimuli and level of health anxiety. The data also revealed the potential presence of confounding variables. Conclusion - No evidence was found for attentional bias towards external health/illness-related stimuli as level of health anxiety increases. Further modifications to the change blindness paradigm are required to improve its clinical utility

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/8575

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