13 May 2004

Meanings and pain intensity

Here's an abstract from Pain 109 (2004) 20-25

The meaning of pain influences its experienced intensity by Arnoud Arntz*, Lily Claassens
This experiment tested whether meaning influences the experience of pain. Thirty-one healthy students participated in a study on
evaluations of various stimuli placed against the neck. By suggesting that a very cold metal bar was either hot or cold, the potentially tissue damaging property of the stimulus was experimentally manipulated. A manipulation check revealed that participants believed the experimenter’s information, as they rated the bar as more hot in the corresponding condition than in the other condition. Confirming the hypothesis that tissue-damaging meaning influences the experience of pain, participants who were told that the bar was hot rated it as more painful than participants who were told that it was cold. Damage interpretations mediated the effect of information on pain intensity scores,which supported the theory that tissue-damage is a crucial aspect of meaning to influence the subjective intensity of pain.
(c)2004 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

While we have known that the perception of threat or severe injury influences the unpleasantness of pain, it would be interesting to find that such meanings also influence judgments about intensity.

On its face this sort of result does seem to tell in favor of the views of writers such as Pitcher and Nelkin who believe that the badness of pain lies in its connection with bodily injury. It may also help --though I know less about such views-- representational accounts of pain phenomenology such as Tye's.

Its also worth noting the bearing this has on the arguments concerning the hot-poker trick in Stuart Rachels' excellent 'Is Unpleasantness Intrinsic to Unpleasant Experiences'

Myself, I think that this appearance of support for Pitcher/Nelkin views is ultimately specious. But that is a subject for another post.

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