The Psychophysiology of Nausea


Nausea is an unpleasant sensation usually referred to the stomach and sometimes followed by vomiting. Little is known about the subjective aspects of nausea because like pain and fatigue, it is a private sensation. We conceive of nausea as a complex control mechanism that signals us when not to eat. Our research in the areas of motion sickness and chemotherapy has led us to propose that we each have a dynamic threshold for nausea, which depends on the interaction of inherent factors and more changeable psychological factors, and that this threshold effects the individual’s cognitive appraisal of both the nauseogenic stimulus and his/her bodily change in response to the nauseogenic stimulus. Inherent factors that are described are age, gender and race; psychological factors that are included are anxiety, expectation, anticipation and adaptation. The physiological responses that have been found to accompany nausea include an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity, a decrease in parasympathetic activity, an increase of abnormal dysrhythmic gastric activity, and an increase in plasma vasopressin. It is concluded that beneficial selective reduction of nausea will depend on a greater knowledge of the interaction of the psychological and physiological variables.


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Correspondence to R. M. Stern.

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Dedicated to Professor György Ádám on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

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Stern, R.M. The Psychophysiology of Nausea. BIOLOGIA FUTURA 53, 589–599 (2002).

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  • Nausea
  • chemotherapy
  • motion sickness
  • gastric dysrhythmia
  • autonomic nervous system