Sanda Pletikosić Tončić

Assistant Professor

Department of Psychology

University of Rijeka

Email

Chronic somatic illnesses, especially functional disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a significant impact on various aspects of daily functioning and can result in severe impairment of quality of life in affected individuals. Symptom onset and perpetuation is generally described using complex biopsychosocial models which encompass a variety of predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. In my research, I focus mainly on emotional, cognitive, and behavioural determinants of positive and negative health outcomes.

Attention, planning, and working memory

One of the possible mechanisms of IBS symptom perpetuation is altered attentional control. Attentional control is one of many executive functions, along with planning and working memory. In IBS patients, we investigate these functions by using experimental designs and computerised tasks which allow us to make conclusions about the cognitive processes that should be involved in generating task responses. For example, we use a modified version of the emotional Stroop task using IBS-related words to test for attentional biases characteristic for this population.

Intraindividual variations in the stress-symptoms-mood relationship

One of the hallmarks of IBS is the heterogeneity of symptoms that the patients experience. Symptoms usually include abdominal pain, and alterations in bowel habit, such as diarrhoea or constipation. The patterns of symptom presentation vary not only between patients but also for a single patient over time. To find out how and perhaps why this happens, we conduct prospective studies, where patients keep daily diaries of their symptoms, moods, and everyday stressful events. This enables us to perform time-series analyses on individual datasets and obtain relevant information on the variability of IBS characteristics over time, rather than dealing with simple averages.

Catastrophising, visceral anxiety, and illness behaviours

Most of the studies we have conducted with IBS patients have been correlational, and most of the constructs of interest were measured using self-report measures. These include several aspects of anxiety (anxiety sensitivity, anxious thoughts, visceral anxiety), coping strategies (catastrophising, avoidance and control behaviours) as well as health outcomes (quality of life and suffering). The idea is that by relating these constructs to one another (and other, prospectively, or experimentally obtained data) in a conceptually and theoretically sound way, we can reflect on the proposed mechanisms, help detect patients at risk from negative outcomes, and ultimately help direct future research on therapeutic interventions for IBS.

Since 2019

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Rijeka, Croatia

2015 – 2019

Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Rijeka, Croatia

2009 – 2015

Research Assistant, Department of Psychology, University of Rijeka, Croatia

2009 – 2015

PhD in Psychology, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia

2004 – 2008

MA in Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Rijeka, Croatia

  • 2015: University of Rijeka Foundation Award for Young Researchers in Social Sciences and Humanities

I have supervised 3 Masters students. Currently I am supervising 4 Masters students.