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Pain. 2004 Feb;107(3):227-33.

The effects of failing to control pain: an experimental investigation.

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Section of Clinical and Health Psychology and Department of Psychiatry, University of Leiden, P.O. Box 9555, 2300 RB, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Chronic pain patients are often confronted with repeated failure to achieve pain relief. The aim of this study was to experimentally investigate the effects of repeated failing attempts to control pain on pain impact (pain intensity, emotional and physiological responses). Perceived control over an electrocutaneous pain stimulus was manipulated between subjects by success or failure feedback on a task by which control over pain could be acquired. In addition, success or failure at the task was manipulated without suggesting a possibility to control pain. It was hypothesized that successful control would lead to lowest pain impact, whereas failure to control pain would lead to even higher pain impact than absent control. Furthermore, it was hypothesized that failure feedback would increase pain impact when compared to success feedback. Results indicated that repeated failure to control pain increased anger and heart rate responses compared to the other conditions, but not pain intensity. It is concluded that persistent efforts to control pain in the face of failure may lead to the maintenance or exacerbation of physiological and emotional responses.

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