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No pain no gain? Pursuing a competing goal inhibits avoidance behavior

Van Damme, Stefaan*; Van Ryckeghem, Dimitri M.L.; Wyffels, Fran; Van Hulle, Lore; Crombez, Geert

doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.12.015

Summary Pursuing valuable goals reduces pain-related avoidance behavior and the relation between fear and avoidance. This shows the need for a dynamic, contextual-motivational view on disability.

This experiment investigated pain-related avoidance behavior in context of competing goals. Participants (N = 56) were presented trials of 2 different tasks of which 1 task could produce pain. They were free to decide whether or not to perform trials of these tasks. In half of the participants, a competing goal was activated by instructing them that they would receive a monetary reward corresponding to the number of pain task trials actually performed (competition group). In the other half of the participants, no competing goal was installed (control group). Results showed that the competition group showed less frequent avoidance behavior than the control group. Furthermore, the association between pain-related avoidance behavior and fear of pain was smaller in the competition group than in the control group. The findings indicate that the emergence of pain-related avoidance behavior depends upon the motivational context, and that the association between pain-related fear and avoidance is not stable. This study has implications for our understanding of disability, and points to the need to consider avoidance behavior within a broad context of multiple, often competing, goals.

Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

*Corresponding author. Address: Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Tel.: +32 (0)9 2649149; fax: +32 (0)9 2646489.


Submitted May 30, 2011; revised and accepted December 16, 2011.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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