An experimental investigation of the role of perceived justice in acute pain

Eur J Pain. 2013 Mar;17(3):412-22. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2012.00201.x. Epub 2012 Aug 23.


Background: Emerging research suggests that perceiving injustice can compound the suffering of chronic pain, while perceiving justice serves as a positive psychological resource in this context. However, little more is currently known about the function of justice beliefs, particularly in the context of acute pain. The present study undertook this investigation, using cold pressor methodology to investigate whether trusting in the fairness of the world would help someone to cope with short-term pain.

Methods: Sixty-five men and 65 women completed measures of personal and general just world beliefs and state anxiety before pain induction and measures of the intensity and quality of pain, in addition to state anxiety following pain induction.

Results: The personal and general beliefs in a just world were negatively correlated with pre-task anxiety but not with measures of pain induction (threshold, tolerance and sensitivity) or measures of post-task pain. Gender had a moderating role, whereby men with a stronger general just world belief reported lower post-task state anxiety and men who had a stronger personal just world belief reported lower pain intensity. However, unexpectedly, women with a stronger personal just world belief reported higher pain intensity.

Conclusion: The observed gender differences may be attributed to gender variations in cognitive appraisals of the task. Overall, while perceived injustice may be undesirable and a potential target for intervention, perceived justice is not necessarily a desired cognition in pain. Research is needed to replicate and extend this emerging research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / psychology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attitude
  • Cold Temperature
  • Culture
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold
  • Pressure
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Justice / psychology*
  • Young Adult