Our more or less negative expectation of pain influences how much pain we will experience: this is what the scientists who directly observed the behavior of our brain claim. The researchers explain that the fear of feeling bad is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Our expectation about pain affects us and makes us feel more or less evil, this is what the researchers of the University of Colorado claim to have observed the behavior of the brain in relation to different stimuli on subjects whose expectations of pain were different. But let’s see in detail what it means that pain can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The more we think about it, the more it hurts. The scientists explain to us that they have discovered that the more we expect to feel pain, the more we will try it. To reach the conclusion that our expectations are able to influence the intensity of pain, scientists observed the behavior of the brain of a group of subjects.
I study. For 34 people, the researchers asked to associate a symbol with more or less heat and another with more or less pain. Subsequently, the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging which measures blood flow in the brain and therefore neural activity. For 60 minutes, the subjects were shown some symbols, the words High and Low or the letters A and B and were asked to evaluate how much pain they could do. After this part of the test, people were applied different sources of heat, painless, on the forearm and leg, and they were asked to evaluate the level of pain.
The results. From observing brain activation, the researchers noted that the more the subjects expected to feel hot, the more the areas involved with the fear became activated. In general, the regions involved in pain were even more active when the subject was subjected to the real stimulus: in short, they felt more pain than they should have.
Fear ruins the future. And that’s not all. The researchers found that the more the subjects tended to have negative expectations about pain, the more they felt even when they had already tried the stimulus, and therefore they should have realized that it wasn’t so bad after all.
The usefulness of this study. According to the scientists, what was discovered could help to optimize the recovery of patients who could be re-educated to change their expectations, reversing the vicious circle into virtuous: the less pain is expected, the less pain one feels.