February 17, 2023
Previous studies have shown that pain memories have a profound impact on subsequent pain experiences. This study investigated whether pain ratings derived from other people can modify an individual's memory of past pain. This study also examined whether pain memory modified by others' pain ratings determines subsequent pain experiences.
Participants were divided into two groups: an experimental group and a control group. Participants in both groups were exposed to pain stimulation; then, they recalled its intensity twice over a period of time; after a break, they were again exposed to pain stimulation of the same intensity. The final sample consisted of 53 participants. The only difference between the experimental group and the control group was that in the former the pain ratings of other alleged participants were presented between the two consecutive pain recalls. These ratings suggested that other people experienced the same pain as less intense.
The pain ratings derived from other people did not alter the pain memory; nevertheless, they affected an individual's next pain experience even for a certain period of time after their presentation. This type of pain-related information shaped participants' subsequent pain experiences regardless of their empathy, conformity, and susceptibility to social influence.
Information on pain derived from other people not only shapes the response to a novel stimulation but also substantially modifies the subsequent experience of that stimulation.
The study demonstrates the importance of social information on pain and provides evidence that this type of information substantially modifies the subsequent experience of the same pain. These results suggest that social information on pain can be used to alleviate pain associated with recurring medical procedures and thus increase patients' willingness to continue treatment.