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Could a negative attitude make me feel more pain?

Anthony Cirillo
Geriatric Medicine
A negative attitude may cause people to sense more pain because they expect more pain. British and German researchers concluded that pessimism could override the effectiveness of powerful treatments.

They strapped a heat-beaming device onto the legs of 22 healthy volunteers, zapping it until people rated their pain at nearly 70 on a scale of 1 to 100. Then the researchers hooked up an IV to give them the powerful morphine-like painkiller.

When the researchers induced the burn and turned on the drug, the volunteers said their pain improved a fair amount. The researchers next told the volunteers they were about to inject the painkiller even though they'd never turned it off. Those pain ratings dropped even more -- the expectation of relief doubled the drug's painkilling benefit. Then researchers said -- falsely -- they were stopping the drug and that pain would probably increase. Sure enough, the volunteers' pain levels soared back up. Mind over matter.

Learning how anxiety influences pain is crucial to understanding this nocebo effect - how you get the pain you expect.

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