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Perception of illness: Nonspecificity of Postconcussion Syndrome symptom expectation

  • JOHN GUNSTAD (a1) and JULIE A. SUHR (a1)


A growing number of studies show postconcussion syndrome (PCS) symptom report is influenced by factors other than head injury, suggesting symptoms typically associated with PCS may not be specific to head injury. Given the role that symptom expectation has been hypothesized to play in PCS symptom etiology, a comparison of symptoms expected for various disorders seems overdue. The present study asked 82 undergraduates to report the symptoms they currently experience, and then to report the symptoms they would expect to experience if they had had suffered either a head injury, an orthopedic injury, posttraumatic stress, or depression. No current differences in overall symptoms or in symptom subscales emerged. Results showed individuals portraying head injury, posttraumatic stress, and depression expected an increase in total symptoms, though individuals portraying an orthopedic injury did not expect such an increase. Results also showed simulators of head injury, posttraumatic stress, and depression expected equivalent rates of overall symptoms, memory/cognitive complaints, somatic concerns, and distracter symptoms, though head-injured individuals reported fewer affective symptoms than those portraying psychological disorders. In all, these findings suggest that individuals have a relative lack of specificity in symptom expectation for various disorders, with the implication that symptom checklists for “PCS” may not be useful for diagnosis. (JINS, 2002, 8, 37–47.)


Corresponding author

Reprint requests to: J.A. Suhr, Department of Psychology, Ohio University, 200 Porter Hall, Athens, OH 45701. E-mail:


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