To know or not to know? Mentalization as protection from somatic complaints

Sergi Ballespí, Jaume Vives, Naida Alonso, Carla Sharp, María Salvadora Ramírez, Peter Fonagy, Neus Barrantes-Vidal

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3 Citations (Scopus)


© 2019 Ballespı´ et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Somatization processes are usually associated with a lack of insight or with emotional unawareness, especially in adolescents where the ability for self-reflection is beginning to mature. However, the extent to which different levels of insight explain variations in somatization remains understudied. This study aimed to evaluate whether high-level emotional awareness (comprehension) but not low-level awareness (only attention) is needed to psychologically cope with suffering, thus leading to lower somatization. Specific predictions were: 1) High attention along with High comprehension will be associated with significantly lower frequency of somatic complaints than other combinations (Low attention and Low comprehension, or High attention but Low comprehension); 2) In absence of comprehension, no attention will be more optimal than attention only, because only-attention might work as an amplificatory of suffering without the possibility of processing it. Self-reports of meta-cognitive processes, somatization, and control variables were obtained from 264 adolescents from a non-clinical population (54.5% female; aged 12–18, M = 14.7, SD = 1.7). In line with expectations, results revealed significant differences in the effects of insight positions on somatization: Attention+Comprehension (M = 4.9, SE = 0.9) < Nothing (M = 7.1, SE = 0.3) < Only attention (M = 8.9, SE = 0.7). Compared to Nothing, Attention+comprehension was associated with significantly reduced somatic complaints (B = -2.2, p = 0.03, 95% CI -4,1 to 0.2). However, Only attention was associated with increased somatic complaints compared to the other two conditions (B = 1.8, p = 0.03, 95% CI 0.2 to 3.4; B = 4, CI 95% 1.6–6.3, p = 0.001, respectively). This highlights the role of higher-order awareness (i.e., comprehension or clarity) in the processing of suffering and stresses its value in the adaptive coping of emotional distress.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0215308
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

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