Psychological Medicine


Attributions about common bodily sensations: their associations with hypochondriasis and anxiety

A. K. MacLEOD a1c1, C. HAYNES a1 and T. SENSKY a1
a1 From the Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London; and Department of Psychiatry, Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, West Middlesex University Hospital, London


Background. Causal attributions about bodily sensations may determine help-seeking and influence patients' demands for medical treatment. The present study aimed to differentiate the causal attributions associated with health-related and non-health-related anxiety.

Methods. Anxious hypochondriacal, generally anxious, and non-anxious general practice attenders were compared on their propensity to give somatic, psychological or normalizing attributions for common bodily sensations, measured by number of each type of attribution in a given time period and the frequency of first response of each type.

Results. The groups differed in all three types of attributions. Giving more psychological and fewer normalizing attributions was related to general anxiety whereas giving more somatic attributions was related specifically to hypochondriasis.

Conclusions. Anxiety and hypochondriasis can be distinguished in terms of their associated patterns of attributions for bodily sensations, reinforcing the importance of attributional processes and interventions which use reattributional training.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Andrew K. MacLeod, Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX.