Project Title  Symptom perception as a transdiagnostic mechanism underlying FD
Host institution  Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz
Supervisor   Prof. Michael Witthöft
Required qualifications  Someone passionate about the mechanisms behind Functional Disorders (FD) and chronic somatic symptom   distress in general. Suitable backgrounds are: psychology graduate, particularly with a background and   interest in clinical psychology, psychophysiology, and experimental psychopathology research.
Duration   36 months


The main goal of this project is to test whether alterations in the perception of signals originating within the body (i.e. interoception) and emotion regulation abnormalities are causally related to the experience of symptoms that are characteristic of functional disorders (FD). ESR1 will test interoception (e.g. interoceptive accuracy as measured with the heartbeat mental tracking tasks as well as signal detection tasks that are able to distinguish between sensitivity and response bias) and emotion regulation abilities and strategies (e.g. reappraisal, expressive suppression, regulatory choice) in persons at risk for the development of FD (i.e. persons suffering from chronic somatic symptoms) compared to healthy control participants. Identified alterations in interoception and emotion regulation will be actively manipulated in patients with FD using training protocols in order to prove their causal role in triggering and amplifying somatic symptoms. 

Expected Results: 

  1. Information on alterations in interoceptive processes as potential mechanism underlying FD
  2. Information on alterations in emotion regulation as potential mechanism underlying FD
  3. Finding novel experimental treatments (training protocols) to lower somatic symptom distress in FD patients

Planned secondments and research visits: 

  1. Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Institute of Health Promotion and Sport Sciences (Prof. Köteles), Budapest, Hungary; Start: Month 12; Duration: 3 months; Aim: Gaining expertise in research into experimental approaches relevant to FD
  2. Technical University Munich (TUM-Med), Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy (Prof. Lehnen), Munich, Germany; Start: Month 18; Duration: 3 months; Aim: Gaining expertise in computational approaches relevant to FD
  3. Tumi Therapeutics BVBA (TUMI), Leuven, Belgium (Prof. Bogaerts); Start: Month 34; Duration: 4 months; Aim: acquiring knowledge about translation from scientific results to clinical services