Worsening of Self-Reported Symptoms Through Suggestive Feedback

Daniël van Helvoort*, Henry Otgaar, Harald Merckelbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous studies found that misleading feedback may increase self-reported symptoms. Does this reflect social demand or internalized misinformation? We investigated whether suggestive misinformation may escalate symptoms when it is provided in a context that minimizes social demand. Eighty participants completed the Checklist for Symptoms in Daily Life twice. Between test and retest, participants were given standardized symptom feedback through a bogus computer program that allegedly produced an analysis of their symptom ratings. The feedback pertained to randomly selected symptom ratings of participants: accurate feedback on four ratings (controls) and manipulated feedback (i.e., misinformation) on two other ratings (i.e., targets), which we increased by two full-scale points. Forty-nine (66%) participants accepted both target manipulations, of whom 35 (71%) confabulated explanations for the inflated ratings. Critically, at retest, participants who accepted the misinformation increased their ratings for target symptoms dramatically, whereas ratings for control symptoms and relevant ratings by participants who rejected the misinformation increased moderately. Our findings may help to understand iatrogenic effects of psychotherapy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-365
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number2
Early online date4 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • symptoms
  • misinformation
  • feedback
  • iatrogenic effect
  • red-herring technique
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered


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