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Negative Thoughts Increase
Pain Perception



Excerpt By Kathleen Doheny, Reuters Health

SAN DIEGO (Reuters Health) - If you arrive at the dentist's office angry--or fearful or sad, for that matter--take a moment to get in a neutral state of mind. That way, the drilling, poking and prodding will seem to hurt less, according to a Canadian researcher who has studied how emotions modulate the pain experience.

"Negative emotions affected the perception of pain more than positive emotions in our experiment," said Quoc Viet Huynh Bao, a dental student at the University of Montreal, who will present his findings Saturday in San Diego at the annual meeting of the International Association for Dental Research.

In the study, Huynh Bao asked 26 men and women in their 20s and 30s to immerse one hand in hot water, at about 113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (45 to 50 degrees Celsius). The temperatures were individually adjusted so that each person could tolerate the water for a minute without too much pain, he told Reuters Health.

Next, the investigators used hypnotic suggestion to induce a range of emotions during each one-minute immersion: relaxation, depression, anger, fear, anticipation of relief, and satisfaction. As the hand was immersed, the researchers would induce emotion with statements such as "You feel angry" or "You want to escape, but cannot." Then the study participants reported how much pain they felt and how unpleasant it was.

Study participants felt the pain was more unpleasant when they were experiencing fear, depression or anger, Huynh Bao reported. "With positive emotions there was a reduction in pain, but it was not significant," he added.

Previous studies, he said, have found the opposite: that fear and anger, such as experienced by soldiers at war, reduce pain. But this study found the negative emotions worsened pain perception. "Negative emotion states make pain feel worse," he explained.

The more susceptible study participants were to hypnosis, the stronger emotions they felt and the more their emotions influenced their pain perception, Huynh Bao noted.

For dentists, he added, the message is to try to help their patients get into at least a neutral state of mind before beginning treatment. Patients who arrive at the dentist's office feeling negatively should take a few moments to relax, listen to a joke or take other measures to banish negative emotions, he suggested.


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