The Psychology of Pain Perception

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Many people in today’s society are intrigued by how differently every person can perceive painful experiences and the variances between how painful something is for one person and how it is not painful for another at all. Everyone is looking for ways to make things less painful or even “pain free”, especially in the world of athletics. Researchers have investigated the psychology of the perception of pain in many different studies, as well as the emotions expressed during the perception of pain.

My aim in this research is to gain a better understanding of how different coping methods and past experiences affect our perception of physical pain. I believe that there are many different techniques that can be used to increase our tolerance to pain and these are a few examples that I found. An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of Preferred and Relaxing Music Listening on Pain Perception Laura A Mitchell and Raymond MacDonald In this study, the researchers were attempting to determine the effects of listening to different types of music and the participants’ perception of pain.

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In the beginning of the article, they explained that their question was if listening to music would lower one’s perception of painful stimuli and if that was the case what type of music would be the most effective. They hypothesized that based off other experiments that listening to music would lowered the perceived pain and that the most effective would be the participants preferred choice of music over the white noise and the specially designed relaxation music. In the study, 34 females and 20 males ranging from the ages 18-51 with a mean age of 22, were recruited through advertisement within a university and paid for participation.

The method the researchers used was a cold pressor stimulation through use of a circulating cold water bath. Each participant was required to immerse their hand the cold bath three separate times five minutes apart, each time with one of the three different types of music. The reason they each had to immerse their hand three times was due to the fact that each person has a different pain tolerance so they wanted the only independent variable to be the music that was being played to the participants via headphones.

The participants were measured on their tolerance time, VAS, pain rating index, and perceived control. The results of the study were thus, that when the participants were able to listen to their own preferred music they lasted significantly longer and had a lower perceived amount of pain compared to when listening to the experimenter’s preselected relaxation music and the white noise. Also the researchers found that in the case of females, the relaxation music was effective at letting them feel less discomfort due to painful stimuli more than white noise but not as effectively as their preferred music.

Perceived control over the pain was significantly higher when listening to preferred music in both males and females than white noise and relaxing music. Relaxing music also received significantly higher ratings than the white noise. This study is related to clinical psychology, since the purpose of the research is to discover another way to help patients to deal with the pain after major surgeries and operations. The power of music could potentially play a huge role in this field if it is concretely established that music can raise pain tolerance and lower perceived amounts of pain.

Cognitive psychology also plays a role in this research study in that people had to make decisions based on how much pain they can stand and also the use of preferred songs adds in the cognitive process of memory and past experiences with the songs chosen for the participants’ CDs. Another psychological perspective that applies to this study is that there are individual differences. Each person has their own pain tolerance and their own preferred music so therefore they each had to do the test three times and they each got to use their own music for one of them.

It was very important to add in individual differences because preferences vary person to person so the experiment has to add that factor in as well. Effect of Manipulated State Aggression on Pain Tolerance Richard Stephens and Claire Allsop In previous studies researchers have found that swearing has a pain lessening (hypoalgesic) effect for many people which gained the interest of other researchers to find other things that can lessen perceived pain for people. This research is based on the same idea that a higher state of arousal would translate over to higher pain tolerance.

This study uses first person shooter games as the method of raising one’s levels of aggression to see if it is effective of lessening the effects of painful stimuli. This study was compromised of a sample of forty undergraduates, male and female, from Keele University. The participants were individually brought into a sound attenuated room. They first filled out a fear of pain questionnaire and a trait aggression questionnaire. They there were then either exposed to 10 minutes of Medal of Honor: Frontline or 10 minutes of PGA Tour 2007.

After this time period they had their hand placed in a room temperature bowl of water to get a standard for all participants and then they would submerge their hand in a cold water bath for as long as they could stand it up to the five minute limit. The researchers would then administer the perceived pain scale and then the participant would repeat the experiment only this time on the other game. Participants’ heart rates were measured every sixty seconds throughout the video games and the cold pressor procedure.

The researchers found that after playing the first-person shooter game the participants had higher levels of aggression and heart rate. Also seventy-five percent of the participants were able to keep their hand submerged longer after playing the first-person shooter game, which is higher than expected by chance. Compared to the golf game the first-person shooter game showed increased immersion latency, a decreased pain perception and since their heart rate was already elevated it remained high.

This research relates to evolutionary psychology, which focuses on how our physical structure and behavior have been shaped to contribute to the survival of our species. When playing first-person shooter games a person is placing him or herself in what would be considered a high stress environment in reality. This in turn brings about a reaction of an elevated heart rate and arousal that has been developed over generations to allow for the fight or flight reaction to keep us alive in times of perceived danger. Our bodies have adapted to lessen pain perception when we are in danger and this is mimicked by the playing of the violent video game.

Another one of the perspectives that this study demonstrates is biological psychology. This test involving a high intensity first-person shooter game could have released chemicals such as norepinephrine and dopamine to cause arousal and get the participants to anticipate rewards for winning the game so they would play more aggressively to succeed faster. The Role of Painful Events and Pain Perception in Blood-Injection-Injury Fears Noelle B. Smith and Alicia E. Meuret Many people believe that a lot of how people perceive pain comes from past experiences and the pains we felt around certain things or situations.

The aim of this study was to assess the role of painful experiences and pain perception in blood-injection-injury fears or BII fears. The researchers hypothesized that the way pain is perceived is due to previous experiences that are paired between intensity of fear and the frequency of repetitions. This study consisted of 392 undergraduate students enrolled in psychology classes at the university. The researchers were able to do a large study because their method was to use an online questionnaire that allowed them to assess the fears of the participants involving BII fears.

The study used four questions to evaluate the frequency and intensity of previous painful BII experiences. The researchers also separated blood and injury from injections to account for a fear of just injections. The results of this research were that people had a lower pain tolerance to BII experiences if they had experienced a painful occurrence previously. They were more likely to faint due to the sight of a needle or when their blood was drawn than those with a genetic disposition to have anxiety.

Those that had a BII fear were more likely to feel more discomfort when they had blood drawn or when they were injured than those that were not as afraid of the BII situations. This study is related to developmental psychology in the way that these participants became more afraid of blood-injury-injection situations because of past experiences in their own life time. Also there are some aspects of social psychology present as well, in that in general our society fears blood and needles and so we tend to avoid them which also lead others around us to gain a fear of needles even without having been injected with a needle.

Both of these lead to the same thing and that is a fear of BII situations either due to our own experience or to conform to a societal fear of sharp needles. Conclusion Perception of pain is an extremely broad topic, there are many factors that go into how each individual person feels and cope with pain. These articles presented a few different ways that people perceive pain and how it affects their tolerance of painful stimuli.

We find that by using music people can distract themselves from the pain and feel more in control of the situation leading to a higher pain tolerance, also that people can improve their pain tolerance and decrease their perceived pain by being in a more aggressive mindset such as when one plays a first-person shooter game. Also people with fears of certain things will find situations that involve those fears more painful and emotionally frightening. During my years in high school I was a three sport athlete, participating in football, wrestling, and track.

During this time I witnessed many situations that many would consider painful but some how myself or others were able to block out the pain. The entire second half of my senior wrestling season, including region and state I wrestled with what I later found out to be a seriously fractured wrist that required major surgery to repair, but at the time it was only sore, not really painful. Also I had a torn meniscus and strained soleus for my final two seasons of football and wrestling and it only bugged me every once in awhile if I didn’t warm up first.

On the other hand though I had teammates jam their fingers or roll their ankles and sit out for weeks. There were guys on the football team that would get a small headache and go complain to the trainers because it would “hurt so bad”. Now that I want to be a physical therapist I’m trying to better understand how people perceive painful experiences so that I can help rehabilitate them as fast as possible whether it be with music therapy or with situations to get their heart rate up so lessen the pain I want them to go back out without them having a fear of that injury anymore.

The influences of these studies have the potential to go a lot farther in helping people increase their pain tolerance and decrease their perceived pain. Further research into the power of music could open a whole new way of helping people cope with pain and if there is a way to help those that have fears of injuries then they will be able to face the pain a lot easier. All of the research going to into pain perception can lead to great steps in the medical field for treatment of all patients so they can have the most comfort.


Mitchell, Laura and MacDonald, Raymond. (2006). An experimental investigation of the effects of preferred and relaxing music listening on pain perception. Journal of Music Therapy 2006 Winter 43, 295-316 Smith, Noelle and Meuret, Alicia. (2012). The role of painful events and pain perception in blood-injection-injury fears. Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry Dec 2012, Vol 53 Issue 4, 1045-1048. Stephens, Richard and Allsop, Claire. (2012). Effect of manipulated state aggression on pain tolerance. Psychological Reports 2012 Aug 111, 311-321.

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The Psychology of Pain Perception. (2016, Nov 14). Retrieved from

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