Dr Kirsten McKenzie, from the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, has just been awarded a grant from Malaysia’s Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation to investigate somatosensory disorders and bodily misperceptions.
When we feel a sensation, such as pain, we assume it is caused by something happening to or within out body, but - there are many clinical cases in which an individual’s somatic experience is found to be a misrepresentation of bodily events. Most of the time our misperceptions are not a problem, and we are not aware that they have happened, but they can become problematic if, for example, we interpret normal bodily sensations as discomfort or pain.
Mistakes or misperceptions of bodily events are often associated with what are called Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS); situations in which patients experience what feels like very real pain or disability, but has no physical cause, and it has been suggested that MUS may account for up to a third of all visits to health-care providers. In this situation, it seems that there may be something wrong with the way the brain interprets information coming from the senses, but as yet very little is known about the processes underlying the development and maintenance of these misperceptions.
This study, which begins later this month, will use several new techniques, including the MIRAGE virtual-reality system in conjunction with Electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate when and how these illusory sensations are interpreted in the brain.
We are particularly interested in the time-course of these illusions. Whether these illusory sensations are generated at an early sensory processing stage, or at a later decision making stage will have a great influence upon both the understanding of sensory processing, and possible treatment options for MUS and somatosensory disorders.
Written by Dr. Kirsten McKenzie