KU Leuven

Interoception of bodily sensations across bodily domains

2024-07-14 (Europe/Brussels)
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KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

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The Research Group Health Psychology at KU Leuven (https://ppw.kuleuven.be/ogp/) aims at unraveling how psychological and somatic variables interact in health and disease from a biopsychosocial perspective. Both fundamental and applied research is being conducted to understand how bodily sensations such as breathlessness and pain are psycho(physio)logically processed and how neural, emotional and social processes contribute to the initiation and maintenance of chronic somatic symptoms, illness and disability. The prevailing research paradigm is the controlled experiment. Measurements include self-reports, psychophysiological/neural responses, clinical and behavioral data. Collaborative, interdisciplinary research is performed by a network of experienced researchers, clinicians and students including many (inter)national collaborations. The ultimate goal is to apply the gathered knowledge in the assessment and early identification of those individuals at risk, and in the development of customized cognitive-behavioral interventions in the pursuit of prevention and treatment of chronic somatic complaints.

The present project is a close collaboration with the Laboratory for Brain-Gut Axis Studies (LaBGAS) at KU Leuven (https://gbiomed.kuleuven.be/english/research/50000625/50000628/labgas). LaBGAS is an internationally renowned research group in which interdisciplinary research is performed in a friendly atmosphere by a team of researchers, clinicians and students with various levels of experience and backgrounds, united by their fascination by brain-gut axis research in health and disease. One of the main research interests of LaBGAS is the investigation of the psychobiological mechanisms of gastrointestinal symptom perception. The complex bidirectional relationship between gastrointestinal symptom perception and cognitive-affective processes including attention, expectations and emotions are studied at the self-report level on large patient datasets, but primarily at the physiological level using functional brain imaging as well as psychophysiological measurement techniques in mechanistic experimental studies.

The current PhD project is part of an intra-European project jointly funded by the FWO (Belgium) and FNR (Luxembourg). It is embedded in a collaboration with the Research Group Self-Regulation and Health lead by André Schulz at the University of Luxembourg. The group specializes in research on interoception and interoceptive training. They specifically study interactions of interoception and psychophysiological responses in health and different diseases, including functional disorders, using interoceptive and neural measurements in different bodily domains.
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An estimated 40-49% of patients in primary care present with somatic symptoms such as dyspnea, diarrhea and palpitations that cannot (sufficiently) be explained by organic pathology. Even though these symptoms are mild and transient in most cases, a subset of patients develop chronic and highly debilitating medically unexplained symptoms, collectively referred to as “functional somatic syndromes” (FSS), such as functional hyperventilation syndrome, functional heartburn, or non-cardiac chest pain. Treatment options for FSS are limited, which is largely due to insufficient knowledge about the mechanisms underlying these symptoms. Disturbed interoception, the ability to process and perceive sensory signals from within the body, is believed to be crucially involved. Interoception is thought to regulate a wide range of psychological functions, including the capacity to recognize and experience emotions, self-awareness, decision-making, and symptom perception. Accordingly,interoceptive impairments have been associated with various psychopathological conditions, including mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders, as well as with FSS.


The current project aims to elucidate some of the conceptual and methodological challenges that have made it difficult to integrate interoception broadly in mental health research and treatment settings, as well as to investigate the role of interoceptive processes and interoceptive dysfunction in functional somatic syndromes. Specifically, we will investigate whether interoception is a general ability that shares neural processing characteristics across multiple organ domains and that predicts affective responses. Moreover, we will test whether altered interoceptive processing of bodily signals from different organs can explain the heterogeneity of somatic symptoms, especially in FSS, and how this can be modified by new treatment approaches. The PhD student will carry out several studies that aim to assess these aspects in a laboratory setting, using state-of-the-art methods including psychophysical, neural (EEG) and behavioral measures. Apart from the acquisition and statistical analysis of the data, the PhD student will also be responsible for the scientific reporting of the results in international peer-reviewed journals and at scientific conferences.The conducted line of experimental studies will result in a PhD thesis that will be defended by the end of the research project. Other academic duties(such as teaching assistance, administration, lab work and public service) are limited. The candidate will work closely with other members of the research groups who are working on related research questions.


  • We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with a MA degree in psychology, neuroscience, biomedical science, or related field with a strong affinity for research in the area of psychophysiology, neuroscience, behavioral medicine, or health psychology.
  • Candidates obtained/will obtain their MA degree before 30/09/2024, with a degree of ‘distinction’.
  • Candidates have a genuine interest and/or a background in interoception, the psychophysiology of chronic somatic symptoms, EEG measures, and in experimental studies.
  • Candidates have excellent organizational and data analytic skills, as well as excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Candidates have excellent communicative skills in English (both verbally and academic writing).
  • You can verbally communicate in Dutch language.
  • Experience with (neuro)physiological research is an asset but not a prerequisite.
  • You are not afraid of challenges.
  • You are not afraid of being in contact with patients and possess the skills necessary for an empathic and professional interaction with patients.


  • We offer a fulltime PhD position in a 4-year research project.
  • Employment basis: temporary for a specified period.
  • Duration of contract: 1-year fulltime PhD position, extendable to 4 years upon positive evaluation.
  • Excellent working conditions: https://www.kuleuven.be/personeel/jobsite/en/phd/phd-information#working-conditions.
  • Professional development via the KU Leuven doctoral school program and YouReCa (https://research.kuleuven.be/en/career/youreca), participation in (inter)national conferences, workshops, teaching, and working in a creative, interdisciplinary environment where cross-fertilization between clinical practice and science is highly valued


For more information please contact Prof. Dr. Andreas von Leupoldt (andreas.vonleupoldt@kuleuven.be); Dr. Nathalie Weltens (nathalie.weltens@kuleuven.be); or Dr. Maaike Van Den Houte (maaike.vandenhoute@kuleuven.be).
You can apply for this position no later than July 14, 2024, exclusively via the online application tool.
Invitations for potential live interviews will be send out on July 17, 2024.
Live selection interviews will take place on August 13 and 14, 2024.

Estimated starting date of the position is on October 1, 2024.

KU Leuven strives for an inclusive, respectful and socially safe environment. We embrace diversity among individuals and groups as an asset. Open dialogue and differences in perspective are essential for an ambitious research and educational environment. In our commitment to equal opportunity, we recognize the consequences of historical inequalities. We do not accept any form of discrimination based on, but not limited to, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ethnic or national background, skin colour, religious and philosophical diversity, neurodivergence, employment disability, health, or socioeconomic status. For questions about accessibility or support offered, we are happy to assist you at this email address.


Interoception of bodily sensations across bodily domains
Oude Markt 13 Löwen, Belgien
2024-07-14 23:59 (Europe/Brussels)
2024-07-14 23:59 (CET)
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Über den Arbeitgeber

KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

Besuchen Sie die Arbeitgeberseite