Influence of Catastrophizing and Personality Traits on Recalled Ratings of Acute Pain Experience in Healthy Young Adults

Pain Med. 2017 Jan 1;18(1):49-60. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw123.


Objective: To investigate whether pain catastrophizing and personality traits bias recalled ratings of acute pain in an experimental tonic pain model.

Subjects and setting: Fifty-six undergraduates (14 males) recruited from the University of Peradeniya (mean age 21.7 ± 0.8 SD years).

Design and methods: Participants completed the Pain Catastrophizing Scale and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. They were subjected to two cold pressor tests (dominant and non-dominant hands) and pain threshold, maximum pain intensity, and pain tolerance were recorded. One-week later, the maximum pain intensities of both hands were recalled and percentage distortions in recalling were calculated. Based on a 180 s cutoff, two participants were considered pain-insensitive during the test and were excluded from the analysis.

Results: The maximum pain intensity was recalled with a moderate accuracy (Intraclass Correlation Coefficients = 0.68 for dominant and 0.59 for non-dominant hands). Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that maximum pain intensity ( P < 0.001) and pain catastrophizing ( P < 0.001) contributed significantly to recalled pain intensity, and only pain catastrophizing contributed significantly ( P < 0.001) to percentage distortion in recalling with positive β-coefficients. Participants who consistently overrated pain for both hands in recalling scored significantly higher on catastrophizing ( P < 0.001).

Conclusion: This study demonstrated that memory for painful events in healthy subjects was reasonably accurate over a period of 1 week. Pain catastrophizing biased pain recall, whereas among personality traits only neuroticism exhibited a weak positive association with the recalled ratings.

Keywords: Acute Pain; Catastrophizing; Cold Pressor Test; Experimental Pain; Pain Memory; Personality Traits.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / psychology*
  • Catastrophization / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality*
  • Young Adult