Perceived self-efficacy and pain control: opioid and nonopioid mechanisms

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Sep;53(3):563-71. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.53.3.563.


In this experiment, we tested for opioid and nonopioid mechanisms of pain control through cognitive means and the relation of opioid involvement to perceived coping efficacy. Subjects were taught cognitive methods of pain control, were administered a placebo, or received no intervention. Their pain tolerance was then measured at periodic intervals after they were administered either a saline solution or naloxone, an opiate antagonist that blocks the effects of endogenous opiates. Training in cognitive control strengthened perceived self-efficacy both to withstand and to reduce pain; placebo medication enhanced perceived efficacy to withstand pain but not reductive efficacy; and neither form of perceived self-efficacy changed without any intervention. Regardless of condition, the stronger the perceived self-efficacy to withstand pain, the longer subjects endured mounting pain stimulation. The findings provide evidence that attenuation of the impact of pain stimulation through cognitive control is mediated by both opioid and nonopioid mechanisms. Cognitive copers administered naloxone were less able to tolerate pain stimulation than were their saline counterparts. The stronger the perceived self-efficacy to reduce pain, the greater was the opioid activation. Cognitive copers were also able to achieve some increase in pain tolerance even when opioid mechanisms were blocked by naloxone, which is in keeping with a nonopioid component in cognitive pain control. We found suggestive evidence that placebo medication may also activate some opioid involvement. Because placebos do not impart pain reduction skills, it was perceived self-efficacy to endure pain that predicted degree of opioid activation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nociceptors / physiopathology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Receptors, Opioid / physiology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Set, Psychology


  • Receptors, Opioid