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Pain. 2007 Sep;131(1-2):191-201. Epub 2007 May 22.

Changes in self-perceived role identity modulate pain perception.

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Collegium Helveticum, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Pain is an experience including physiological and psychological factors. We assume that emotions may be elicited and increased through self-perceived role identity and that change of role identity alters quality and intensity of pain perception. We used role-play strategies to assess whether pain can be better tolerated whenever, in an unavoidable and unpleasant context, role identity confers pain a meaningful and thus suitable character. We induced antithetic roles in 21 actors who received heat stimuli on their arms before and after role-play conditions. Pain tolerance, skin conductance and voice signals were measured. Pain tolerance increased for heroes/heroines and decreased for faint-hearts. Men showed higher pain tolerance. Heroes/heroines evaluated heat stimuli as more intense. Faint-hearts found pain stimuli more affectively loaded at lower temperatures. Women showed higher pain ratings. Hence, self-perception influences pain perception. Role-play strategies may be of value for new pain management strategies.

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