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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cognitive processes and brain dynamics associated with social and physical pain in youth and young adults Weik, Ella


In adults, prefrontal brain areas play an important role in modulating physical and social pain. During adolescence, these brain regions undergo crucial changes. It is unclear how this can influence the ability to regulate physical and social pain. In this dissertation I investigate cognitive and brain correlates of physical and social pain in adolescents and young adults. First, I conducted three studies to investigate the influence of conditioning on thermal discomfort. During the conditioning phase, differing visual cues were paired with either low or high temperatures applied to the participant’s forearm. During the testing phase, conditioned cues were paired with moderate temperatures. I investigated whether discomfort of moderate temperatures was higher when paired with the high conditioned cue (nocebo effect) and lower when paired with the low conditioned cue (placebo effect). In all three studies I found a significant conditioning effect, suggesting conditioned cues can modulate thermal discomfort in adolescents. Effect sizes were lower for youth compared to adults, and enhanced by engaging and personalized cues. (Chapter 2) Next, I investigated whether youth were able to up- and down-regulate thermal sensations and whether this ability was associated with structural integrity in pain modulation regions. Higher down-regulation magnitude was associated with structural integrity in ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC) to Periaqueductal Grey (PAG), and higher up-regulation magnitude with lower integrity dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex (dmPFC) to PAG tracts. (Chapter 3) Lastly, using EEG I investigated brain dynamics associated with social pain, and whether mindset manipulation can influence these brain dynamics and negative mood in young adults. Negative social feedback was associated with early ERP components (lower P1, higher N1, higher P3) and higher parietal theta desynchronization. Processing self-related information was associated with higher LPP and higher right parietal theta desynchronization and higher left parietal alpha desynchronization. The mindset manipulation neither influenced participants mood, nor brain components associated with negative social feedback. (Chapter 4). The results suggest that developmental changes during adolescence reduce the modulation ability of physical pain. For social pain further studies are necessary to investigate how negative mood can be modulated effectively, and how this is related to adolescence.

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