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Original research
Suggestibility in functional neurological disorder: a meta-analysis
  1. Lillian Wieder1,
  2. Richard Brown2,
  3. Trevor Thompson3,
  4. Devin B. Terhune1
  1. 1 Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK
  2. 2 School of Health Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  3. 3 School of Human Sciences, University of Greenwich, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Devin B. Terhune, Psychology, Goldsmiths' College, London SE14 6NW, UK; d.terhune{at}


Objective Responsiveness to direct verbal suggestions (suggestibility) has long been hypothesised to represent a predisposing factor for functional neurological disorder (FND) but previous research has yielded conflicting results. The aim of this study was to quantitatively evaluate whether patients with FND display elevated suggestibility relative to controls via meta-analysis.

Methods Four electronic databases were searched in November 2019, with the search updated in April 2020, for original studies assessing suggestibility using standardised behavioural scales or suggestive symptom induction protocols in patients with FND (including somatisation disorder) and controls. The meta-analysis followed Cochrane, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses and Meta-analyses Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines. Data extraction and study quality coding were performed by two independent reviewers. Standardised suggestibility scores and responsiveness to symptom induction protocols were used to calculate standardised mean differences (SMDs) between groups.

Results Of 26 643 search results, 19 articles presenting 11 standardised suggestibility data sets (FND: n=316; control: n=360) and 11 symptom suggestibility data sets (FND: n=1285; control: n=1409) were included in random-effect meta-analyses. Meta-analyses revealed that patients with FND displayed greater suggestibility than controls on standardised behavioural scales (SMD, 0.48 (95% C, 0.15 to 0.81)) and greater responsiveness to suggestive symptom induction (SMD, 1.39 (95% CI 0.92 to 1.86)). Moderation analyses presented mixed evidence regarding the extent to which effect sizes covaried with methodological differences across studies. No evidence of publication bias was found.

Conclusions These results corroborate the hypothesis that FND is characterised by heightened responsiveness to verbal suggestion. Atypical suggestibility may confer risk for FND and be a cognitive marker that can inform diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

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  • Contributors All authors conceived the project. LW carried out the database searches and data coding with assistance from RB, TT and DBT. LW and DBT performed the meta-analysis with assistance from RB and TT. LW and DBT drafted the initial manuscript. All authors reviewed and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. Data are freely available from previous research studies.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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