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Perception of pain in others : the impact of a label of major depressive disorder Turcotte, Kara


Approximately one in five Canadian adults suffer from chronic pain. Furthermore, rates of psychiatric disorders, particularly major depression, are elevated among chronic pain populations. Although the influence of psychosocial factors on judgments of pain in others is gaining increased attention in the research literature, the extent to which a label of a comorbid psychiatric condition influences how pain is perceived in individuals with chronic pain has not yet been investigated. Using a between-subject vignette methodology, the current study examined how a label of comorbid major depression influenced the assessment of pain intensity in individuals with chronic pain. The present study investigated whether a comorbid diagnosis of depression can influence the perception of pain in individuals with chronic pain, as well as how and for whom this effect might exist. This research hypothesized the association between a comorbid MDD label and pain intensity assessment may be mediated by physical pain attributions, psychological pain attributions, or pain genuineness or moderated by an individuals’ level of mental illness stigma, psychological distress, or empathy. Three hundred and seventy-one participants read a vignette and watched a video of a middle-aged male or female adult with chronic pain undergoing a pain induction exercise. The participants responded to an online questionnaire assessing their perception of the patient’s pain intensity, pain genuineness, physical or psychological causal attributions of pain, and psychological distress, as well as self-report trait measures of mental illness stigma, and empathy. The findings indicated that a label of comorbid depression in individuals with chronic pain influences observers’ perception of the patient’s psychological distress, pain genuineness, and physical pain attributions regarding causes of pain, but not pain intensity. No significant mediation or moderation effects emerged. Given the high rates of depression in chronic pain and the poor quality of life outcomes in this population, future research is needed to examine other ways comorbid depression may impact pain perception in others. This area of research shows promise in improving the assessment and subsequent treatment of individuals suffering from acute and chronic pain.

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