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In search of conditioned pain: an experimental analysis

PainSci » bibliography » Kang et al 2023
updated
Tags: mind

One article on PainSci cites Kang 2023: Chronic Pain as a Conditioned Behaviour

PainSci commentary on Kang 2023: ?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

This paper presents a trio of related experiments to test the hypothesis that pain can undergo classical conditioning. In preparation for the experiment, participants were trained in a simulated setting to anticipate pain when touched on the hand with a blue pen, but not when touched with a yellow pen (“acquisition”). In the first test, the shock was happened when the pen touched a specific point on the hand; in the second, it was when the pen seemed to touch the hand in the virtual world; and in the third, the participants were told the pen could cause pain instead of just signaling it. This process definitely taught subjects to expect pain when they saw the blue pen, but only the second and third tests showed “some evidence” of actually feeling pain when a shock was not delivered. The results suggest that it’s possible for people to learn to feel pain from certain cues, but it might be quite rare or only happen in certain conditions.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

There is an ongoing debate about whether pain can be classically conditioned, but surprisingly, evidence is scarce. Here, we report 3 experiments investigating this idea. In a virtual reality task, healthy participants were approached and touched near or on their hand with a coloured pen (blue or yellow). During acquisition, participants learned that one of the colours of the pen (CS+) was predictive of a painful electrocutaneous stimulus (ECS) whereas the other coloured pen (CS-) was not. During the test phase, more frequent reports of experiencing an US when none was delivered ("false alarm") for the CS+ vs CS- qualified as evidence of conditioned pain. Notable differences between experiments were that the US was delivered when the pen touched a spot between the thumb and index finger (experiment 1; n = 23), when it virtually touched the hand (experiment 2; n = 28) and when participants were informed that the pen caused pain rather than simply predicting something (experiment 3; n = 21). The conditioning procedure proved successful in all 3 experiments: Self-reported fear, attention, pain, fear, and US expectancy were higher ( P < 0.0005) for the CS+ than the CS-. There was no evidence for conditioned pain in experiment 1, but there was some evidence in experiments 2 and 3. Our findings indicate that conditioned pain may exist, albeit most likely in rare cases or under specific situations. More research is needed to understand the specific conditions under which conditioned pain exists and the underlying processes (eg, response bias).

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