When pain meets... Pain-related choice behavior and pain perception in different goal conflict situations

Martien Schrooten*, K. Wiech, J.W.S. Vlaeyen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Individuals in pain often face the choice between avoiding pain and pursuing other equally valued goals. However, little is known about pain-related choice behavior and pain perception in goal conflict situations. Seventy-eight healthy volunteers performed a computerized task requiring repeated choices between incompatible options, differing in their effect on probability to receive painful stimulation and money. Depending on group assignment, participants chose between increased pain probability versus decreased money probability (avoidance-avoidance conflict situation); decreased pain probability versus increased money probability (approach-approach conflict situation); or decrease versus increase in both probabilities (double approach/avoidance conflict situation). During the choice task, participants rated painfulness, unpleasantness, threat, and fearfulness associated with the painful stimulation and how they felt. Longer choice latency and more choice switching were associated with higher retrospective ratings of conflict and of decision difficulty, and more equal importance placed on pain avoidance and earning money. Groups did not differ in choice behavior, pain stimulus ratings, or affect. Across groups, longer choice latencies were nonsignificantly associated with higher pain, unpleasantness, threat, and fearfulness. In the avoidance-avoidance group, more choice switching was associated with higher pain-related threat and fearfulness, and with more negative affect. These results of this study suggest that associations between choice behaviors, pain perception, and affect depend on conflict situation. Perspective: We present a first experimental demonstration of the relationship between pain-related choice behaviors, pain, and affect in different goal conflict situations. This experimental approach allows us to examine these relationships in a controlled fashion. Better understanding of pain-related goal conflicts and their resolution may lead to more effective pain treatment. (C) 2014 by the American Pain Society
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1166-1178
JournalThe Journal of Pain
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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