Tara Marlena Petzke is the winner of the Elsevier/EAPM Young Investigator Award 2024

Tara Marlena Petzke


Summary of the award-winning work:

The perception of somatic symptoms often does not (only) reflect physiological changes in the body, but also cognitive and affective processes. Negative affect and health anxiety, for example, are known to worsen symptom experience. Asking about symptoms is a necessary part of clinical monitoring, but as it also a form of directing attention to symptoms, it could have unfavorable effects on symptom experience. In this study, we aimed to quantify the effect of repeatedly asking about symptoms. To this end, we recruited 124 individuals and used the Affective Picture Paradigm, an experimental setup in which participants view alternating negative and neutral picture blocks and are asked about their current bodily symptoms. From many earlier studies, we know that negative pictures induce more symptoms than neutral pictures and that this effect is particularly strong in people with chronic somatic symptoms. Here, we manipulated symptom query frequency: one randomly assigned group was asked three times as often about their symptoms compared to another group. The high-frequency group immediately reported more net symptoms (after negative minus neutral trials) than the lower-frequency group, although the two groups did not differ at baseline. This effect was even more pronounced in persons with higher health anxiety. Thus, the lower-frequency group had time to shift their focus away from monitoring their body, or, from a more constructivist perspective, to deactivate the cognitive schema about symptoms. From a predictive processing viewpoint, frequently asking for symptoms may keep symptom priors in a highly activated state. Future studies should aim at disentangling the exact processes by which negative affect, high symptom query frequency, and other exacerbating factors such as health anxiety foster symptom experiences. For clinicians, we recommend using open questions instead of symptom checklists, and fostering environments were patients feel comfortable reporting symptom changes independently.

Tara Marlena Petzke (Department of Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy and Experimental Psychopathology, University of Main, Germany):

Tara M. Petzke is a PhD student at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. She studied psychology at the University of Würzburg and the University of Leiden from 2015-2021. As she has always been interested in translating research into different settings, she gained some work experience in research, healthcare-settings, and healthcare-related policymaking during her studies. Currently, she is a member of the ETUDE network, which is a H2020 MSCA funded project aimed at researching mechanisms, diagnoses, treatments, and stigma behind functional disorders. Tara’s project is on interoception and emotion regulation as transdiagnostic mechanisms in functional disorders. As a part of this project, she had secondments at the ELTE in Budapest (Hungary), Klinikum Rechts der Isar in Munich (Germany), and at a therapeutics center Leuven (Belgium).
As a truly European researcher, Tara speaks seven languages and has contributed to various cross-cultural projects. She is a German, Croatian, and Australian citizen and hopes to improve psychosomatic healthcare communication and information sharing in Serbo-Croatian one day.

Tara Petzke will give a lecture “And how did that make you feel?” – Repeated symptom queries enhance symptom reports elicited by negative affect” at the Award Ceremony of the EAPM Conference in Lausanne on Saturday, June 15.