Pain and emotion: a biopsychosocial review of recent research

J Clin Psychol. 2011 Sep;67(9):942-68. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20816. Epub 2011 Jun 6.


Objective and method: Research on emotion and pain has burgeoned. We review the last decade's literature, focusing on links between emotional processes and persistent pain.

Results: Neurobiological research documents the neural processes that distinguish affective from sensory pain dimensions, link emotion and pain, and generate central nervous system pain sensitization. Psychological research demonstrates that greater pain is related to emotional stress and limited emotional awareness, expression, and processing. Social research shows the potential importance of emotional communication, empathy, attachment, and rejection.

Conclusions: Emotions are integral to the conceptualization, assessment, and treatment of persistent pain. Research should clarify when to eliminate or attenuate negative emotions, and when to access, experience, and express them. Theory and practice should integrate emotion into cognitive-behavioral models of persistent pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / physiopathology
  • Acute Pain / psychology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*