Situational and psychophysiological factors in psychologically induced pain

Pain. 1991 Jan;44(1):45-50. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(91)90145-N.


To investigate pain that occurs in the absence of painful stimulation, normal subjects were connected to a sham stimulator and were told that a headache could occur as a result of the electrical current they would receive. Half of the subjects who received this suggestion reported pain. The frequency and intensity of pain reports in a group which was given prior pain experience as a reference point in reporting pain and in a group which was exposed to a manipulation designed to reduce intentional deception were not significantly different from the pain reports of a group not exposed to these manipulations. The frequency of pain reports in subjects not connected to the sham stimulator but still asked to report pain was 25% which was significantly less than the frequency for subjects who were told there would be stimulation to the head. Pain ratings increased as the settings of the sham stimulator were increased. Subjects who reported pain had significantly fewer electrodermal responses to tones signaling them to prepare for a reaction time task. The results suggest that pain can be produced in the absence of peripheral stimulation. The pain does not appear to be due to intentional deception or the lack of a standard for comparison, but is strongly influenced by environmental cues. Psychophysiologically, pain responders were less attentive to signal stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Environment
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Research Design
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology