The meaning of pain influences its experienced intensity

Pain. 2004 May;109(1-2):20-5. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2003.12.030.


This experiment tested whether meaning influences the experience of pain. Thirty-one healthy students participated in a study on evaluations of various stimuli placed against the neck. By suggesting that a very cold metal bar was either hot or cold, the potentially tissue-damaging property of the stimulus was experimentally manipulated. A manipulation check revealed that participants believed the experimenter's information, as they rated the bar as more hot in the corresponding condition than in the other condition. Confirming the hypothesis that tissue-damaging meaning influences the experience of pain, participants who were told that the bar was hot rated it as more painful than participants who were told that it was cold. Damage interpretations mediated the effect of information on pain intensity scores, which supported the theory that tissue-damage is a crucial aspect of meaning to influence the subjective intensity of pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / psychology
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics