[Paleopsych] pain perception

Todd I. Stark thrst4knw at aol.com
Mon Nov 14 16:41:41 UTC 2005

I think this is a very rich and productive topic.

Since pain perception would presumably be among the most primitive and 
basic of perceptual experiences biologically and is of particular 
medical significance, it has been of great interest in research and 
there is a fair amount of data on it so far.  It appears that perception 
of pain is a very complex combination of physical stimuli, signal 
transmission, neural regulation at various levels, and social and 
psychological factors that alter expectancy, mood, and attention.  This 
combines with individual genetic differences to produce what is usually 
envisioned as a matrix of different factors affecting the perception of 
pain in different people.

One important point is that we are talking about at least two different 
levels: (1) acute perception and (2) long term coping.  Acute perception 
varies more dramatically between individuals due to talents.  There 
seems to be a more readily identifiable genetic basis for dramatic 
differences in acute pain perception than differences in chronic pain 

About 15% of the population have a radically different experience of 
acute pain simply because their expectations about it are different. 
This can mean _either_ experiencing MORE pain or LESS pain. Those are 
the people with whom suggestion can dramatically alleviate (or 
exacerbate!) acute pain.  In a different 15%, their expectations affect 
the experience of acute pain little or not at all.  In almost everyone, 
our expectations influence our perception of chronic pain and how well 
we cope with it.  In the remaining 70% of the population, expectancy 
seems to modulate acute pain slightly to moderately well.

It also turns out that, perhaps not unexpectedly, women modulate pain in 
a much more complex way than men related to hormonal mechanisms.

  [ http://www.the-scientist.com/2005/03/28/S27/1 ]

kind regards,


Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. wrote on 11/12/2005, 1:33 PM:

 > Comment: We know now that activity changes the structure of the brain.
 > Violinists, for example, have a larger motor strip; London taxi drivers
 > have a larger hippocampus. So what this news doesn't say is the
 > cause/effect relationship. Why wouldn't enough trauma overwhelm and
 > ventromedial prefrontal cortex? Hum??? Why wouldn't children taught
 > hardiness cognitive strategies then develop a more robust frontal lobe?
 > We have seen a number of these studies, and all are vulnerable to the
 > post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Another factor they seem to overlook
 > is habitual level of happiness. People who are more happy are less
 > intimidated by pain (like the small shocks) and actually rate the same
 > cold-pressor pain stimulus as less painful than less happy people.
 > Thanks for the provocative article, Frank.
 > Lynn

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