Brief report: Writing about chronic fatigue increases somatic complaints

Marko Jelicic, Mincke Frederix, Harald Merckelbach


Participants were instructed to imagine that either they or a friend were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and were asked to fabricate a story about how CFS affected their own or their friend's daily functioning. Control participants were not given an imagination exercise but were asked to write about their study choice. After the writing exercise, all participants completed the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90). Participants who had written a story about how CFS symptoms affected daily life (either their own life or that of a friend) had higher scores on the Somatization subscale of the SCL-90 than controls. This finding resembles the misinformation effect documented by memory research, and suggests that elaborative writing about illness, through its symptom-escalating power, has iatrogenic potential.


chronic fatigue syndrome; medically unexplained symptoms; misinformation; somatization

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