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A comparison of the effect of mindfulness and relaxation on responses to acute experimental pain

Authors

  • L. Sharpe,

    Corresponding author
    • Clinical Psychology Unit, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Australia
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    • Funding sources

      This study was funded by an ARC Discovery Project Grant to L.S., M.K.N. and K.R. L.S. is funded by a Senior NHMRC Research Fellowship.

  • K. Nicholson Perry,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Australia
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  • P. Rogers,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Australia
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  • K. Refshauge,

    1. Department of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney, Australia
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    • Funding sources

      This study was funded by an ARC Discovery Project Grant to L.S., M.K.N. and K.R. L.S. is funded by a Senior NHMRC Research Fellowship.

  • M.K. Nicholas

    1. Pain Management and Research Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
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    • Funding sources

      This study was funded by an ARC Discovery Project Grant to L.S., M.K.N. and K.R. L.S. is funded by a Senior NHMRC Research Fellowship.


  • Conflicts of interest

    There are no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence

Louise Sharpe

E-mail: louise.sharpe@sydney.edu.au

Abstract

Background

This study aimed to investigate the efficacy of mindfulness training in comparison with relaxation training on pain, threshold and tolerance during the cold pressor task.

Methods

Undergraduate psychology students (n = 140) were randomly assigned to receive reassuring or threatening information about the cold pressor. Participants were then re-randomized to receive mindfulness or a control intervention: relaxation training.

Results

Analyses confirmed that the threat manipulation was effective in increasing worry, fear of harm and expectations of pain, and reducing coping efficacy. Interaction effects revealed that mindfulness was effective in increasing curiosity and reducing decentring under conditions of high threat but not low threat. Other interactions on cognitive variables (attentional bias to pain and self-focus) confirmed that mindfulness and relaxation appeared to exert influences under different conditions (i.e. mindfulness: high threat; and relaxation: low threat). Despite these cognitive effects being discerned under different conditions, there were no differences between mindfulness and relaxation on pain, tolerance or threshold in either threat group.

Conclusions

These results show that a single, brief session of mindfulness based on body scanning is not sufficient to change the way in which individuals approach an experimental pain task in comparison with relaxation, which has previously been shown to be ineffective.

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