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Responding to social cues: An experimental paradigm exploring the link between context sensitivity and pain
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work. (Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP))ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2718-7402
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work. (Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP))ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9429-9012
School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Sweden. (Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP))
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work. (Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP))ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5359-0452
2019 (English)In: British Journal of Health Psychology, ISSN 1359-107X, E-ISSN 2044-8287, Vol. 24, no 2, p. 443-459Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

OBJECTIVES: The term context sensitivity refers to whether a response is in tune with the ever changing demands of the context, while insensitivity is the lack of responding to these cues. To date, we know little about how well patients with pain respond emotionally to changes in the cues provided by the social context, that is, how emotionally context (in)sensitive they are and if this is related to problem severity. The aim of this experimental study was to test a method for determining levels of context sensitivity in individuals with subacute and chronic pain and to explore the link between context (in)sensitivity and pain-related problems. We operationalized context (in)sensitivity as participants' emotional responses (observed facial expressions and self-reported affect) and pain bothersomeness in these contexts and explored the association between these context-(in)sensitive social-emotional responses and pain-related problems.

METHODS: Sixty-two participants with pain were cued to talk openly about three different topics consecutively in a counterbalanced order: (1) their pain, (2) a negative non-pain topic, and (3) a positive non-pain topic. We measured the participants' emotional responses (observed facial expressions and self-reported affect) and pain bothersomeness across these contexts and explored the effect of social-emotional responding on pain-related problems.

RESULTS: The results showed that, irrespective of individuals' baseline levels of pain bothersomeness, positive affect, and negative affect, those who reacted with more negative affect and pain bothersomeness when prompted to discuss a positive topic had higher levels of pain-related problems. Moreover, those who showed more negative facial expressions and pain bothersomeness when prompted to discuss a negative non-pain topic also had higher levels of pain-related problems.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings highlight a link between sensitivity to the social context and the severity of a pain problem. We showed that individuals with greater problem severity were less sensitive to social cues in their emotional responses, as compared to individuals with less pain-related problems. As predicted, context-insensitive responding appears to be most strongly associated with pain-related problems when dealing with negative emotions. Although the cross-sectional nature of the study prohibits causal conclusions, our findings demonstrate a link and future research is clearly needed to unravel the role of context sensitivity in the development of pain over time.

Statement of contributionWhat is already known on this subject?

  • Responding to social cues seems to be important for adaptation to pain. The term context sensitivity refers to whether a response is in tune with the provided social cue. To date, we know little about how well patients with persistent pain respond emotionally to changes in the social context, that is, how context (in)sensitive they are and if this is linked to problem severity.

What does this study add?

  • A test of a method for determining levels of context sensitivity in individuals with persistent pain.
  • Information about to what extent individuals with chronic pain respond context sensitively.
  • Knowledge on the link between social context sensitivity and level of pain problems.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2019. Vol. 24, no 2, p. 443-459
Keywords [en]
Chronic pain, context sensitivity, flexibility, social context
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-74213DOI: 10.1111/bjhp.12362ISI: 000466379000012PubMedID: 30907044Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85063340334OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-74213DiVA, id: diva2:1314803
Funder
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, P14-0799:1Available from: 2019-05-09 Created: 2019-05-09 Last updated: 2019-06-19Bibliographically approved

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Flink, IdaBoersma, KatjaLinton, Steven J.

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