Contextual determinants of pain judgments
The objective of this study was to examine the influence of variations in contextual features of a physically demanding lifting task on the judgments of others' pain. Healthy undergraduates (n=98) were asked to estimate the pain experience of chronic pain patients who were filmed while lifting canisters at different distances from their body. Of interest was whether contextual information (i.e., lifting posture) contributed to pain estimates beyond the variance accounted for by pain behavior.
... by pain behavior. Results indicated that the judgments of others' pain varied significantly as a function of the contextual features of the pain-eliciting task; observers estimated significantly more pain when watching patients lifting canisters positioned further away from the body than canisters closest from the body. Canister position contributed significant unique variance to the prediction of pain estimates even after controlling for observers' use of pain behavior as a basis of pain estimates. Correlational analyses revealed that greater use of the contextual features when judging others' pain was related to a lower discrepancy (higher accuracy) between estimated and self-reported pain ratings. Results also indicated that observers' level of catastrophizing was associated with more accurate pain estimates. The results of a regression analysis further showed that observers' level of catastrophizing contributed to the prediction of the accuracy of pain estimates over and above the variance accounted for by the utilisation of contextual features. Discussion addresses the processes that might underlie the utilisation of contextual features of a pain-eliciting task when estimating others' pain.