Let it hurt! Can we train our pain?

Murad Tukan, Einav Gozansky#, Hadas Okon-Singer and Irit Weissman-Fogel -  Department of Psychology

Neural Networks
Data Mining


PhD Grant 2022

Pain is a complex perception, influenced not only by the sensory experience of a potential damage to our body tissue, but also by many other factors such as attention, emotions, motivations, and interpretations of pain.

In the last few decades, the prevalence of chronic pain syndromes has risen dramatically. According to global estimates, one in five adults suffers from ongoing and lasting pain, and around 20% of visits to physicians are related to chronic pain. However, despite the many diverse methods currently available for treating pain, their impact is limited.

Given the complexity of pain perception, in the last few years, computerized cognitive training tasks were suggested as promising interventions to change pain. These trainings target core mechanisms related to pain processing such as changing how much attention people devote to their pain or how people think about their pain experience. However, to use these trainings effectively as therapeutic interventions for people suffering from chronic pain, a better understanding of the way these trainings change pain is needed. 

Our study comprehensively compares two training methods for pain reduction (aiming to change either attention to pain or perceptions about pain) by integrating measures of individual traits, behaviors, and physiological responses. Furthermore, we aim to understand which training method is better for each individual and which individual characteristics can predict training efficacy. 

Preliminary findings demonstrate that participants experienced a reduction in sensitivity to heat pain stimuli following both trainings. Moreover, participants trained to change perceptions about pain reported an increase in pain threshold and tolerance in response to cold water pain. Thus, our preliminary results show that cognitive-emotional training can reduce experimental pain sensitivity and increase pain tolerance.