Negative Affect and Medically Unexplained Symptoms

  • Elena Constantinou


Self-reported physical symptoms not adequately explained by an identifiable organic dysfunction (medically unexplained symptoms) are considered within a cognitive-perceptual framework as stemming from biases in the processing of interoceptive information. Accumulated empirical evidence indicates that negative emotions can be one source of bias, since they have been associated with augmented symptom experiences. This chapter summarizes the research findings supporting this link and discusses three possible mechanisms by which negative emotions lead to biased symptom overreporting. It specifically focuses on mood congruency as the underlying mechanism, i.e., the hypothesis that negative emotions activate affectively congruent symptom representations in memory. Theoretical and practical implications are explored.


Medically unexplained symptoms Negative emotions Cognitive-perceptual theories Mood congruency Symptom schemata 



This chapter relies greatly on the PhD thesis of Dr. Elena Constantinou, which was obtained at the Health Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, KU Leuven (Belgium), under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Omer Van den Bergh (co-supervisors: Dr. Ilse Van Diest & Dr. Katleen Bogaerts).


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and NeuroscienceKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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