The effects of observation and gender on psychogenic symptoms

Health Psychol. 2010 Mar;29(2):181-5. doi: 10.1037/a0017860.


Objective: To assess the effects of modeling and its interaction with gender in the production of psychogenic symptoms.

Design: Healthy volunteers were asked to inhale an inert substance described as a suspected environmental toxin that had been reported to provoke 4 physical symptoms. Subsequently, half of the participants observed a confederate inhale and display the 4 expected symptoms. To control for the general tendency of women to report more physical symptoms than men, participants were also asked to rate the presence of 4 unexpected symptoms.

Main outcome measures: Symptom ratings at 10-min intervals over a 1-hr period.

Results: With unexpected symptoms controlled, observation of symptom displays increased reports of expected symptoms significantly. In addition, the presence of another person of the same gender as the participant increased the production of expected symptoms, even when symptoms were not modeled by the confederate. There was also a trend for women to show more expected symptoms than men.

Conclusion: Although the effect of modeling was independent of gender, the mere presence of a same-gender individual, as opposed to a person of the opposite gender, increased reports of expected symptoms, regardless of whether the second person (i.e., the confederate) displayed symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Set, Psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants