Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Laura J. Dixon

Second Advisor

Todd A. Smitherman

Third Advisor

Aaron A. Lee


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) are disorders of the brain-gut axis characterized by physiological and emotional disturbances, including heightened comorbidity with psychiatric disorders. Individuals with FGIDs experience difficulties with emotional processing, including the awareness, identification, and regulation of emotions. Although emotional processing is implicated in the maintenance and exacerbation of FGID pathology, literature examining these associations is limited. The current study aimed to enhance understanding of the emotional processing of individuals with FGIDs. We recruited individuals with and without FGID symptoms and examined the: (1) association between gastrointestinal distress and psychopathology; (2) association between gastrointestinal distress and emotional and physiological responsivity; (3) awareness, identification, and intensity of emotional experiences; and (4) distress, emotion regulation abilities, and deployment of specific emotion regulation strategies during emotion inductions. In total, 291 university students (Mage = 20.59; SD = 5.50; 72.5% female; 82.5% White) completed an online battery of self-report questionnaires. A portion of participants (n = 52) engaged in a neutral induction and a series of experimental emotion inductions to elicit anxiety, disgust, and sadness. Gastrointestinal distress was positively correlated with psychopathology and physiological and emotional responsivity, but not use of emotion regulation strategies. Throughout emotion inductions, participants in the FGID and control groups did not differ in their differentiation of negative emotions, distress, or emotion regulation. One significant within-subjects main effect of induction emerged, such that SUDS following the emotion inductions were higher than following the neutral induction, and that anxiety and disgust resulted in greater SUDS than the sadness induction. Consistent with extant literature, findings suggest that college students may be at risk for FGID symptoms, and that gut symptoms are associated with both heightened emotional and physiological reactivity. Significant and null findings must be considered in the light of several limitations, including a nonclinical sample of participants with relatively low gastrointestinal distress, novel videoconferencing methodology, and data collection during a global pandemic. Future studies should replicate and extend this study by using a larger, in-person sample of individuals with verified FGIDs to determine whether functional gastrointestinal symptoms are indeed associated with difficulties distinguishing and regulating emotions.


Clinical Psychology

Available for download on Tuesday, October 31, 2023