Filling the glass: Effects of a positive psychology intervention on executive task performance in chronic pain patients

J. J. L. M. Boselie*, L. M. G. Vancleef, M. L. Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BackgroundChronic pain is associated with emotional problems as well as difficulties in cognitive functioning. Prior experimental studies have shown that optimism, the tendency to expect that good things happen in the future, and positive emotions can counteract pain-induced task performance deficits in healthy participants. More specifically, induced optimism was found to buffer against the negative effects of experimental pain on executive functioning. This clinical experiment examined whether this beneficial effect can be extended to a chronic pain population.

MethodsPatients (N=122) were randomized to a positive psychology Internet-based intervention (PPI; n=74) or a waiting list control condition (WLC; n=48). The PPI consisted of positive psychology exercises that particularly target optimism, positive emotions and self-compassion.

ResultsResults demonstrated that patients in the PPI condition scored higher on happiness, optimism, positive future expectancies, positive affect, self-compassion and ability to live a desired life despite pain, and scored lower on pain catastrophizing, depression and anxiety compared to patients in the WLC condition. However, executive task performance did not improve following completion of the PPI, compared to the WLC condition.

ConclusionsDespite the lack of evidence that positive emotions and optimism can improve executive task performance in chronic pain patients, this study did convincingly demonstrate that it is possible to increase positive emotions and optimism in chronic pain patients with an online positive psychology intervention. It is imperative to further explore amendable psychological factors that may reduce the negative impact of pain on executive functioning.

SignificanceWe demonstrated that an Internet-based positive psychology intervention strengthens optimism and positive emotions in chronic pain patients. These emotional improvements are not associated with improved executive task performance. As pain itself often cannot be relieved, it is imperative to have techniques to reduce the burden of living with chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1268-1280
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • SELF
  • Pain Management/methods
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Empathy
  • Young Adult
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Executive Function/physiology
  • Depression/etiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Anxiety/etiology
  • Emotions
  • Chronic Pain/psychology
  • Catastrophization/etiology
  • Internet

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