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Title: Medically unexplained symptoms, attention to the body and body representation
Author: Miles, Eleanor
ISNI:       0000 0004 2668 8392
Awarding Body: The University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2009
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The aim of the work presented in this thesis was to investigate two general hypotheses derived from theories on the aetiology and maintenance of medically unexplained symptoms (MUS); first, that a dysfunction in attention to the body contributes to the experience of MUS, and second, that MUS are a result of distortions in body representation. Experiments 1 to 5 investigated attention in MUS. This work focused on experimentally investigating previous hypotheses on the subject, namely that people with MUS have an attentional bias for the body, or that they have a dysfunction in the processing of sensory stimuli. Five methods were developed, and used with analogue (Experiments 1,2,4 and 5) and clinical (Experiment 3) MUS participants. Clinical MUS participants showed a stronger attentional orientation effect for visual stimuli than control participants, which may suggest they are attending away from their bodies, and people with analogue MUS found it more difficult to switch away from the tactile modality, suggesting a disengagement deficit. These results point to a more subtle between-groups difference in the dynamics of attention, which is present not just for the body and for tactile stimuli, but also in other modalities. Experiments 6 to 8 investigated whether MUS were associated with alterations in experience of a perceptual illusion (the 'rubber hand illusion'), in both analogue (Experiment 6 and 8) and clinical (Experiment 7) groups. The clinical MUS group showed stronger experience of this illusion than control participants. Effects in analogue MUS samples differed between experiments, with one group showing lower illusion experience (Experiment 6) and one group showing higher experience (Experiment 8). This suggests firstly that body representation is altered in MUS, and secondly that MUS are associated with large individual differences in body experience. Experiment 8 probed whether these differences were due to alterations in attention and body-focus. Results suggested that there is a complex interaction between attention and experience of the illusion. The work presented here has challenged the traditional assumption that a general attentional bias for the body is present in MUS, provided important information about attentional deficits in MUS and how they might best be empirically assessed in future work, and supported the conception of MUS as distortions in the process of body representation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available