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Pain. 2019 Jul;160(7):1662-1669. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001542.

People in pain make poorer decisions.

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Mathematics Education Centre, Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom.
Centre for Pain Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom.
Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.


Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 people and has been shown to disrupt attention. Here, we investigated whether pain disrupts everyday decision making. In study 1, 1322 participants completed 2 tasks online: a shopping-decisions task and a measure of decision outcomes over the previous 10 years. Participants who were in pain during the study made more errors on the shopping task than those who were pain-free. Participants with a recurrent pain condition reported more negative outcomes from their past decisions than those without recurrent pain. In study 2, 44 healthy participants completed the shopping-decisions task with and without experimentally induced pain. Participants made more errors while in pain than while pain-free. We suggest that the disruptive effect of pain on attending translates into poorer decisions in more complex and ecologically valid contexts, that the effect is causal, and that the consequences are not only attentional but also financial.

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