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Original research
Suggestibility in functional neurological disorder: a meta-analysis

Abstract

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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