Illusory touch and tactile perception in somatoform dissociators

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    Objective: The psychological mechanisms of somatoform dissociation (i.e., pseudoneurological symptoms) are poorly understood. This study evaluated recent theoretical predictions regarding the role of tactile perception in the development of somatoform dissociative symptoms. Methods: Eighty nonclinical participants scoring either high or low on the Somatoform Dissociation Questionnaire (SDQ-20) completed the Somatic Signal Detection Task (SSDT), a novel perceptual paradigm designed to simulate the occurrence of somatoform symptoms in the laboratory. Prior to the SSDT, participants completed a memory task designed to produce either minimal or maximal activation of tactile representations in memory. Results: The high SDQ-20 group exhibited a more liberal response criterion (c) on the SSDT than the low SDQ-20 group after controlling for negative affectivity, somatosensory amplification and depression. This effect was mainly attributable to an increased number of false alarms (i.e., illusory experiences of touch) in the high SDQ-20 group rather than an increased hit rate. General perceptual ability (i.e., tactile sensitivity) was comparable between the two groups. The memory manipulation had no effect on SSDT performance. Conclusions: Somatoform dissociators appear more likely to experience illusory perceptual events under conditions of sensory ambiguity than nondissociators, despite comparable perceptual abilities more generally. These findings support theories that identify distorted perceptual processing as a feature of somatoform dissociation. The SSDT has potential as a tool for further research in this area. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)241-248
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of psychosomatic research
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


    • Dissociative disorders
    • Medically unexplained symptoms
    • Perception
    • Signal detection theory
    • Somatization
    • Somatoform disorders


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