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What Factors Affect the Perception of Pain?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2016
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Among the many factors affecting the perception of pain are a person’s emotional state, certain auditory cues and visual perceptions. Sensory stimuli also contribute to feeling pain. In addition to mental and physical contributors, scientists studying how people perceive pain pain have discovered that, even in the absence of pain-relieving medications, the feeling of pain can be controlled with focused mental effort.

In studying the mind-body connection, researchers have discovered that different types of perception contribute to the physical feeling of pain. For instance, auditory perception can contribute to the feeling of pain and its intensity. This is sometimes true in patients diagnosed with complex regional pain disorder. For these individuals, everyday sounds like a horn blowing or a door slamming may trigger pain in certain areas of the body.

Visual perception also largely contributes to the perception of pain. As pain is largely a protective mechanism signaling danger to the consciousness, the sight of a painful event often intensifies a physical feeling of pain. Such an example may be a person who is allowed to watch an incision being made on the body. Even with anesthesia, an increased perception of pain is sometimes present in such cases. In addition to visual perception situations such as this, the mental expectation of pain also contributes to its presence and intensity.

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Researchers studying the perception of pain have found that a person’s emotional state significantly affects the degree of pain felt when subjected to painful stimuli. It has been observed that research participants in upbeat moods experience lesser degrees of pain than do those who are in uncomfortable, angry or depressed moods. Visual perception and emotion often work together in this regard. For instance, these same outcomes have been found in participants who receive small electric shocks while simultaneously shown pictures that are perceived to be nice or beautiful while other participants are shown photos that are deemed as grim or displeasing. Participants exposed to off-putting scenery experience more intense pain from shocks than do the other participants who are shown visually appealing photos.

Of course, sensory perception also plays a role in the perception of pain. When the body is damaged in some way, pain signals are sent to the brain in an effort to notify a person’s consciousness that something is wrong. Even with the presence of painful stimuli, however, researchers have discovered that meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis and other methods of controlling the mind and body are of significant help in controlling the perception of pain.

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lighth0se33
Post 4

I know that when I'm stressed out, I am much more sensitive to pain. In fact, I tend to develop more aches and pains when I'm having a stressful day than when I'm not.

I know that I hold my muscles taut when I'm stressed. My nerves are shot, and I am very jumpy.

Little things that wouldn't hurt much at all on a normal day cause me much more pain on days like this. Everything from a stubbed toe to cramps gets worse.

Kristee
Post 3

People who have lost limbs can control their phantom pain through their perception. If they are having pains in the missing limb, they can just put a mirror up to their other limb and visualize it.

I'm not exactly sure how this works, but I know that it is effective. It's a way of tricking the brain out of thinking you're in pain.

healthy4life
Post 2

@cloudel – I believe it can. At least, it did with me.

I was only six years old when I ran into a sharp object and gave myself a black eye. I didn't know it right away, but I had also sliced open my temple.

Immediately after it happened, I found myself flat on my back and giggling. It wasn't until I looked down at my shirt and saw it was soaked in my own blood that I began screaming in pain.

Of course, the shock of seeing the blood is probably what got me screaming. However, I became aware of the pain in my head shortly thereafter.

cloudel
Post 1

Does anyone here think that the sight of blood can bring on perceived pain? I have known people who didn't even know they had injured themselves until they saw the blood, and then, they started to feel the pain.

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