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Health psychologists discuss latest research findings

Common physical symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and lower back pain are related to the perception of everyday smells, University of Nottingham researchers will tell delegates at a health psychology conference on campus.

Professor Eamonn Ferguson and Dr Helen Cassaday, with colleague Dr Jane Ward of the University of Loughborough, described their findings to fellow academics from all over the country at a British Psychological Society (BPS) event running from September 12-14.

The researchers investigated how stress, intense odours and personality combined to explain everyday physical symptoms that appear to have no medical basis — such as abdominal pain, fatigue, chest pain and lower back pain.

They studied 194 individuals, who completed a structured diary twice a day for eight days, recording their experiences of common physical symptoms, odours, sounds and stress. Seventy different odours were reported with hot food, paint, smoke/fire, coffee, and chemicals the most frequently mentioned.

Symptoms were reported to worsen at the same time as the intensity of odour, and levels of stress, increased. However, only the intensity of odour, not stress, predicted future symptom reporting over a short half-day interval.

Professor Ferguson said: “These results highlight the importance of everyday odour with respect to the experience of common physical symptom, showing that common environmental experiences, rather than stress, predict symptoms over short intervals. It may be that people come to associate particular odours with symptoms and the experience of the odour ‘triggers’ the experience of symptoms.”

Issues such as weight loss, emotions and quality of life will be just some of those addressed when health psychologists from all over the UK gather at the University of Nottingham to exchange the latest research and thinking in their profession, at the BPS’s Division of Health Psychology Annual Conference.

The themes of the conference include:
•Stress and Health
•Communicating Risk
•Social influences on health
•Disordered eating and body image
•Weight loss and self care
Among other research being presented will be a study of the trauma faced by soldiers returning from the front line. Karen Burnell and Dr Nigel Hunt of The University of Nottingham found that war veterans need emotional support from their family and friends and recognition from society in order to come to terms with their experiences when they come home.

They interviewed 23 male veterans of wars fought in the last 60 years about their view of the social support they received after service. Research found that veterans who had a strong support network on leaving the forces came to terms with the events better than those who did not.

Those who did not have support from family and friends after leaving the forces were less able to come to terms with their experience. The interviews revealed these veterans would appreciate the opportunity to have social relationships that would enable them to speak about their experiences and regretted not being able to develop them.

Miss Burnell said: “During the interviews, it became apparent that the veterans who had unsupportive relationships with their families and a perceived lack of support from society at large were also the ones who had been least able to come to terms with what they had witnessed in the war. They often showed a desire to have more social interaction but did not have adequate support to do so.

“It was clear that those veterans who had supportive relationships with friends and family were most likely to have come to terms with what they had witnessed.”

The conference will also feature four keynote speakers:

•Professor Alan Christensen, University of Iowa, will examine why patients don’t stick to prescribed medical regimens in his lecture Patient Adherence to Medical Regimens: Levels of Understanding and Intervention.

•Professor Mark Conner, University of Leeds, will look how attitudes and emotions determine various health behaviours in Cognitive and affective influences on health behaviours.

•Professor Susan Michie, University College London, will look at how theory can be applied to real-life situations and help to create and implement guidelines in her speech Behaviour change: Theory, evidence and application.

•Jane Ogden, University of Surrey, will suggest that people who change their behaviour to become healthier have a ‘road to Damascus’ moment, rather than undergoing a slow process. She will explain all in Seeing the light: sustained behaviour change and the process of reinvention.

The conference is being held on University Park, Nottingham.

Emma Thorne | alfa
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