Learned Complaints

Principles of operant conditioning suggest that behaviors that are rewarded will increase in strength or frequency, whereas behaviors that are inhibited or punished will decrease. Secondary gains, such as at tention and sympathy from others and/or decreased responsibilities, may reinforce somatic complaints. If somatic symptoms are reinforced early in the course of a somatoform disorder, then these behaviors are likely to continue. A child may learn the benefits of assuming the sick role and be reluctant to give up the symptoms. Increased parental attention and/or the avoidance of unpleasant school pressures may further reinforce symptoms. Social learning theory also suggests that somatic symptoms may be a result of "modeling" or "observational learning" within the family (Jamison and Walker 1992). Patients with somatoform disorders often have family members with similar physical complaints (symptom model) (DeMaso and Beasley 2005).

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