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Pain. 2006 Jan;120(1-2):44-52. Epub 2005 Dec 13.

The relationship of adult attachment to emotion, catastrophizing, control, threshold and tolerance, in experimentally-induced pain.

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Division of Occupational Therapy, The University of Queensland, St Lucia Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.


Although insecure attachment has been associated with a range of variables linked with problematic adjustment to chronic pain, the causal direction of these relationships remains unclear. Adult attachment style is, theoretically, developmentally antecedent to cognitions, emotions and behaviours (and might therefore be expected to contribute to maladjustment). It can also be argued, however, that the experience of chronic pain increases attachment insecurity. This project examined this issue by determining associations between adult attachment characteristics, collected prior to an acute (coldpressor) pain experience, and a range of emotional, cognitive, pain tolerance, intensity and threshold variables collected during and after the coldpressor task. A convenience sample of 58 participants with no history of chronic pain was recruited. Results demonstrated that attachment anxiety was associated with lower pain thresholds; more stress, depression, and catastrophizing; diminished perceptions of control over pain; and diminished ability to decrease pain. Conversely, secure attachment was linked with lower levels of depression and catastrophizing, and more control over pain. Of particular interest were findings that attachment style moderated the effects of pain intensity on the tendency to catastrophize, such that insecurely attached individuals were more likely to catastrophize when reporting high pain intensity. This is the first study to link attachment with perceptions of pain in a pain-free sample. These findings cast anxious attachment as a vulnerability factor for chronic pain following acute episodes of pain, while secure attachment may provide more resilience.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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