Interoception and stress in patients with Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder

Cogn Neuropsychiatry. 2021 Mar;26(2):75-94. doi: 10.1080/13546805.2020.1865895. Epub 2020 Dec 29.


Introduction: Research suggests that patients with Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder (pwFND) struggle to identify their own emotions and associated physiological cues (interoceptive sensitivity, IS). However, it is not known how this deficit interacts with stress. This study aimed to assess IS in pwFND at baseline and following stress induction, and relate the findings to self-reported emotion processing difficulties.

Methods: Twenty-six pwFND and 27 healthy controls performed the Heart Beat Detection Task pre- and post-stress induction with the Cold Pressor Test. Participants also completed questionnaires assessing anxiety (GAD-7) and depressive symptomology (PHQ-9), as well as emotion processing (EPS-25).

Results: Patients reported deficits in emotion processing (p < . 001) and had lower IS (p = .032) than healthy controls. IS improved following stress induction across both groups (p = .003) but patients' IS was lower than that of healthy controls' pre-and post-stress induction. Exploratory analyses revealed that patients reporting sensory symptoms had lower IS at baseline than patients who did not.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that pwFND are relatively impaired in the identification of their emotions at baseline and following stress induction. This may be related to the experience of functional sensory symptoms and has implications for the psychological treatment of emotion dysregulation in this population.

Keywords: Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder; interoception; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Emotions
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Interoception*