Creating Innovative & Translational Research


Attention to bodily symptoms

Informed by an integrative model explicating the dynamic interactions between bottom-up and top-down features, we investigate when, why and how bodily sensations (or signals of bodily threat) receive processing priority despite being irrelevant for current activities (task interferences). Research focuses upon bottom-up features, but also on top-down settings that facilitate processing of bodily sensations. Included is research on hypervigilance to bodily sensations in contexts of bodily threat, and research on how somatosensory stimuli interact with information in the external environment (cross-modal integration within peri-personal space).

Self-regulation of bodily symptoms

We investigate when and how the saliency of bodily sensations can be diminished by top-down settings.Research focuses mainly upon directing attention away from bodily sensations (distraction), and upon an accepting attitude towards the sensations (acceptance, willingness, mindfulness).

Self-management of illness and health-related behavior

Self-management in real-life settings often requires finding an adequate balance between competing goals (continuing with valued activities versus engaging in illness-related activities. We investigate the consequences of goal conflict, and the rigid pursuit of unattainable goals (e.g., symptom relief in chronic illness). Besides experiments and questionnaires, we use diary methodologies to provide a more ecological and personalized perspective on goals and self-regulation. A goal and self-regulation perspective is also used to develop and evaluate interventions.

Interpersonal dynamics of pain and chronic illness

The observation of another experiencing bodily symptoms triggers a cascade of psychological processes (empathy, distress, attention, hypervigilance for threat signals in others) and behavioural sequelae (prosocial/helping behaviour).

Research lines focus upon:

  1. bottom-up and top-down factors influencing observers' attention to, perception of, and interpretation of another's pain, and how this, in turn, relates to observers' sensory, affective and behavioral responses and goal regulation;
  2. contextual factors influencing an individual's pain expression and experience and;
  3. the role of observers' mindfulness and acceptance of other's pain/illness in helping behaviour, and its impact upon patient outcomes (e.g., disability, treatment adherence).

These processes are investigated among parent-child dyads, couples, health care provider- patient dyads, and lay people. Research is informed by integrative models of empathy and motivation. These interpersonal dynamics are investigated by means of experimental paradigms that allow rigorous control, diary methods, cross-sectional and prospective questionnaire methodology, and observational methods.