Social Science & Medicine vol:61 issue:8 pages:1835-1845
This study aimed to characterize individual bodily symptoms as regards their differential relationship with negative affectivity (NA). In a first step, 73 symptoms were rated by independent groups of raters (psychologists, medical doctors, healthy students) on the following characteristics: the extent to which a symptom (1) refers to a specific location in the body (vagueness), (2) may refer to both a physical condition and a negative emotional state (overlap), and (3) is likely to be a physiological manifestation of anxiety (anxiety). Each symptom was also rated on (4) the probability that it is caused by a clearly defined somatic pathology (somatic pathology), (5) how life-threatening or (6) compromising for the quality of life a symptom is, and (7) how worried one would be if the symptom were to be experienced in daily life (worrying). Two factors, severity and somatic versus psychic, explained 75% of the variance in the ratings on the symptom characteristics. Next, based on the data of 1017 university students (858 women), correlations of each individual symptom with NA were calculated for each gender. The pattern of correlation was highly variable and differed in important ways for men and women. Whereas the correlation of an individual symptom with NA could be predicted by both symptom factors in women (R(2)=52%), only the somatic versus psychic factor was a significant predictor in men (R(2)=11%). These results suggest that (1) NA should not be considered a general complaining factor, and (2) important gender differences exist regarding the type of symptoms that relate most strongly to NA.