Antoinette van Laarhoven, working at Leiden University, will receive an NSMD Young Talent Grant worth 10,000 euros. The grant supports the consortium's young talents in various ways; in Van Laarhoven's case, it will fund a pilot study that uses network analysis to further investigate the pain and itch perception of people with chronic complaints in this area.
Antoinette van Laarhoven's research is embedded in the Center for Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies Leiden and revolves around the role of attention and expectations in the experience of chronic itching and pain or, on the contrary, its relief. There is evidence that people with chronic itching and pain are more likely to suffer from alexithymia: difficulty understanding, describing and distinguishing their own emotions. This is likely to affect how people cope with illness, including mentally. The pilot study aims to use network models to map whether people with chronic pain or itching have more difficulty than healthy individuals in distinguishing whether something itches, tingles, stings, hurts (sensory experience) and whether the sensation is, for example, bothersome, annoying, pleasant, nagging (affective experience). By analysing networks of responses, it may be possible to reveal mechanisms underlying divergent expectations. This could potentially also help treat patients with chronic itching or pain, or eventually be applicable to several other patient groups with somatic disorders and/or patients with alexithymia.