Psychology Plays Role in the Intensity of Pain: Study Finds Correlation with Anxiety

By Young, Shannon | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Psychology Plays Role in the Intensity of Pain: Study Finds Correlation with Anxiety


Young, Shannon, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Having a positive attitude can help whisk away your aches and pains, says a report released today at the eighth annual World Congress on Pain in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have formulated a new theory of pain known as the psychological behaviorism theory of pain. According to their findings, positive thinking may alleviate some people's pain, while negative thinking may actually exacerbate the pain.

The Hopkins team isn't suggesting that pain is a figment of the imagination, but that individuals can decrease their pain through positive thinking.

"Our theory reconceptualizes pain as an emotional response," said Dr. Peter Staats, leader of the research team and director of pain medicine at Johns Hopkins. "These findings support our belief that most pain involves both a biological cause and an emotional response to it, and that treatment should address both these factors."

In the study, 72 college students submerged their hands in ice water until they could no longer tolerate the pain. Before the experiment, the students took a written test to determine their level of pain anxiety. The study found that students with a high anxiety for pain pulled their hands out of the ice water much earlier than those who were less worried about pain.

When the students concentrated on positive messages, their threshold for pain nearly doubled. Similarly, the tolerance for pain decreased significantly for those who concentrated on negative messages. …

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