There is increasing evidence that psychological factors, such as stress or placebo effects, influence the quality of life, disease outcomes, and effects of medical treatments in both healthy populations and somatic conditions. Our overarching goal is to understand and make optimal use of psychoneurobiological mechanisms that underlie health and chronic conditions. To this end, we combine innovative insights from different disciplines (e.g., psychology, medicine, biology, genetics, communication) in testing psychoneurobiological mechanisms of symptom perception, stress responsiveness, and adjustment to or progression of chronic disease, as well as in developing and implementing disease-generic personalized psychological or psychobiological interventions for healthy and patient populations (e.g., through e-health).
Examples of specific questions that our research group examines include:
How does stress affect chronic somatic symptoms and conditions (e.g. itch and pain)?
This research program encompasses a series of ambulatory, laboratory, and clinical studies in patients with, for example, chronic inflammatory conditions, examining the impact of stressors as well as stress vulnerability and stress resilience factors on physiological stress responses and disease outcomes, including quality of life, physical functioning, and disease severity. With the knowledge obtained from this research program, we aim to increase the knowledge of the role of stress mechanisms in somatic disease processes and to discover ways to diminish the impact of stress on these disease processes.
How can placebo effects be used to optimize health? How can psychological factors affect our immune and endocrine systems?
This research program encompasses a series of laboratory and clinical studies testing the optimal combination of expectancy learning techniques to induce placebo effects with regard to health. We also examine the ability to directly influence the functioning of our physiological stress systems (the autonomic nervous and neuroendocrine system) and our immune system by means of psychological mechanisms such as expectancies. With the knowledge obtained from this research program, we aim to substantially contribute to theoretical models and therapeutic applications to optimize current treatments for chronic somatic conditions, which could potentially lead to more effective treatment, fewer side effects, and a better quality of life of patients.
How effective are self-management or cognitive-behavioral interventions for chronic somatic conditions?
This research program encompasses a series of applied studies developing and testing the (cost-)effectiveness of disease-generic self-management or cognitive-behavioral interventions for chronic somatic conditions. Specific features of developed interventions include a screening procedure applied beforehand to offer interventions only to those patients who can profit, the potential to tailor interventions to the needs of the individual patient, and the application of new technologies to deliver interventions (e.g. e-health).