Can anxiety reduce pain? Does attention increase it?

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Anxiety may reduce pain. Paying attention to pain increases it:

Four hypotheses about the influences of anxiety and attention on pain impact were tested in a critical experiment: (1) anxiety increases pain; (2) anxiety decreases pain; (3) attention to pain increases pain; (4) only the combination of anxiety and attention to pain increases pain (interaction hypothesis). In a 2 × 2 design, anxiety (low vs high) and attention (attention vs distraction from the pain) were experimentally manipulated. Subjects received 20 electrically produced painful stimuli. Subjective pain experiences, skin conductance responses and heart rate responses gave no support for a pain impact increasing effect of anxiety. The anxiety-attention interaction hypothesis did not receive any support either. There was some support, only from the heart rate responses, that anxiety reduces pain impact. The critical factor appeared to be attention. Attention to the pain stimulus was related to a stronger pain impact (indicated by all measures) and to less subjective habituation, compared to distraction.

Source: “Attention, not anxiety, influences pain” from Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 29, Issue 1, 1991, Pages 41-50

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