Words putting pain in motion: the generalization of pain-related fear within an artificial stimulus category

M.P. Bennett, A. Meulders, F. Baeyens, J.W.S. Vlaeyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Patients with chronic pain are often fearful of movements that never featured in painful episodes. This study examined whether a neutral movement's conceptual relationship with pain-relevant stimuli could precipitate pain-related fear; a process known as symbolic generalization. As a secondary objective, we also compared experiential and verbal fear learning in the generalization of pain-related fear. We conducted an experimental study with 80 healthy participants who were recruited through an online experimental management system (M-age = 23.04 years, SD = 6.80 years). First, two artificial categories were established wherein nonsense words and joystick arm movements were equivalent. Using a between-groups design, nonsense words from one category were paired with either an electrocutaneous stimulus (pain-US) or threatening information, while nonsense words from the other category were paired with no pain-US or safety information. During a final testing phase, participants were prompted to perform specific joystick arm movements that were never followed by a pain-US, although they were informed that it could occur. The results showed that movements equivalent to the pain-relevant nonsense words evoked heightened pain-related fear as measured by pain-US expectancy, fear of pain, and unpleasantness ratings. Also, experience with the pain-US evinced stronger acquisition and generalization compared to experience with threatening information. The clinical importance and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number520
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2015

Keywords

  • symbolic generalization
  • pain-related fear
  • chronic pain disorders
  • fear-avoidance model
  • acceptance and commitment therapy
  • LOW-BACK-PAIN
  • CHRONIC MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN
  • RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED-TRIAL
  • VALUES-BASED ACTION
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL FLEXIBILITY
  • COMMITMENT THERAPY
  • ANXIETY DISORDERS
  • CONDITIONED FEAR
  • AVOIDANCE
  • ACCEPTANCE

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