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Implicit associations between pain and self-schema in patients with chronic pain

Van Ryckeghem, Dimitri M.L.*; De Houwer, Jan; Van Bockstaele, Bram; Van Damme, Stefaan; De Schryver, Maarten; Crombez, Geert

doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.07.055
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Summary Current research, using the implicit Association Test, indicates that patients with chronic pain show a stronger association between self- and pain-schema than healthy people.

Chronic pain often interferes with daily functioning, and may become a threat to an individual’s sense of self. Despite the development of a recent theoretical account focussing upon the relationship between the presence of chronic pain and a person’s self, research investigating this idea is limited. In the present study we aimed to (1) compare the strength of association between self- and pain schema in patients with chronic pain and healthy control subjects and (2) research whether the strength of association between self- and pain-schema is related to particular pain-related outcomes and individual differences of patients with chronic pain. Seventy-three patients with chronic pain (Mage = 49.95; SD = 9.76) and 53 healthy volunteers (Mage = 48.53; SD = 10.37) performed an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to assess the strength of association between pain- and self-schema. Patients with chronic pain also filled out self-report measures of pain severity, pain suffering, disability, depression, anxiety, acceptance, and helplessness. Results indicated that the pain- and self-schema were more strongly associated in patients with chronic pain than in healthy control subjects. Second, results indicated that, in patients with chronic pain, a stronger association between self- and pain-schema, as measured with the IAT, is related to a heightened level of pain severity, pain suffering, anxiety, and helplessness. Current findings give first support for the use of an IAT to investigate the strength of association between self- and pain-schema in patients with chronic pain and suggest that pain therapies may incorporate techniques that intervene on the level of self-pain enmeshment.

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

*Corresponding author. Address: Ghent University, Belgium, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Tel.: +32 (0)9 2648611; fax: +32 (0)9 264648912.

E-mail: Dimitri.vanryckeghem@ugent.be

Submitted May 6, 2013; revised July 30, 2013; accepted July 31, 2013.

© 2013 International Association for the Study of Pain
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