Dispositional optimism has been shown to beneficially influence various experimental and clinical pain experiences. One possibility that may account for decreased pain sensitivity among individuals who report greater dispositional optimism is less use of maladaptive coping strategies such as pain catastrophizing, a negative cognitive/affective response to pain. An association between dispositional optimism and conditioned pain modulation, a measure of endogenous pain inhibition, has previously been reported. However, it remains to be determined whether dispositional optimism is also associated with temporal summation (TS), a measure of endogenous pain facilitation. The current study examined whether pain catastrophizing mediated the association between dispositional optimism and TS among 140 older, community-dwelling adults with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Individuals completed measures of dispositional optimism and pain catastrophizing. TS was then assessed using a tailored heat pain stimulus on the forearm. Greater dispositional optimism was significantly related to lower levels of pain catastrophizing and TS. Bootstrapped confidence intervals revealed that less pain catastrophizing was a significant mediator of the relation between greater dispositional optimism and diminished TS. These findings support the primary role of personality characteristics such as dispositional optimism in the modulation of pain outcomes by abatement of endogenous pain facilitation and less use of catastrophizing.
Perspective: Results from this study further support the body of evidence that attests to the beneficial effects of positive personality traits on pain sensitivity and pain processing. Further, this study identified diminished pain catastrophizing as an important mechanism explaining the inverse relation between dispositional optimism and endogenous pain facilitation.
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