Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance attributed to Electromagnetic Fields (IEI-EMF) is a condition in which symptoms are attributed to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure. As electro-hypersensitive (EHS) people have repeatedly been observed, during provocation trials, to report symptoms following perceived rather than actual exposure, the hypothesis has been put forward that IEI-EMF originates from psychological mechanisms, especially nocebo responses. This paper examines this hypothesis, using data from a qualitative study aimed at understanding how EHS people come to regard themselves as such. Forty self-diagnosed EHS people were interviewed. A typified model of their attribution process was then elaborated, inductively, from their narratives. This model is linear and composed of seven stages: (1) onset of symptoms; (2) failure to find a solution; (3) discovery of EHS; (4) gathering of information about EHS; (5) implicit appearance of conviction; (6) experimentation; (7) conscious acceptance of conviction. Overall, symptoms appear before subjects start questioning effects of EMF on their health, which is not consistent with the hypothesis that IEI-EMF originates from nocebo responses to perceived EMF exposure. However, such responses might occur at the sixth stage of the process, potentially reinforcing the attribution. It remains possible that some cases of IEI-EMF originate from other psychological mechanisms.
Keywords: IEI-EMF; attribution process; causal reasoning; idiopathic environmental intolerance; illness narratives.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.