Believing is perceiving: mismatch between self-report and actigraphy in psychogenic tremor

Brain. 2012 Jan;135(Pt 1):117-23. doi: 10.1093/brain/awr292. Epub 2011 Nov 10.


We assessed the duration and severity of tremor in a real-life ambulatory setting in patients with psychogenic and organic tremor by actigraphy, and compared this with self-reports of tremor over the same period. Ten participants with psychogenic tremor and eight with organic tremor, diagnosed using standardized clinical criteria, were studied. In an explicit design, participants were asked to wear a small actigraph capable of continuously monitoring tremor duration and intensity for 5 days while keeping a diary of their estimates of tremor duration during the same period. Eight patients with psychogenic tremor and all patients with organic tremor completed the study. Psychogenic patients reported significantly more of the waking day with tremor compared with patients with organic tremor (83.5 ± 14.0% of the waking day versus 58.0 ± 19.0% of the waking day; P < 0.01), despite having almost no tremor recorded by actigraphy (3.9 ± 3.7% of the waking day versus 24.8 ± 7.7% of the waking day; P = 0.001). Patients with organic tremor reported 28% more tremor than actigraphy recordings, whereas patients with psychogenic tremor reported 65% more tremor than actigraphy. These data demonstrate that patients with psychogenic tremor fail to accurately perceive that they do not have tremor most of the day. The explicit study design we employed does not support the hypothesis that these patients are malingering. We discuss how these data can be understood within models of active inference in the brain to provide a neurobiological framework for understanding the mechanism of psychogenic tremor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / etiology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology
  • Self Report
  • Tremor / diagnosis*
  • Tremor / etiology*
  • Tremor / psychology