Pain Quality and Endurance in the Context of Sacrifice: An Empirical Investigation

Author:  Joshua Noble
Institution:  The King's University College, Edmonton, Canada
Date:  October 2010


How is the experience of pain altered by perceptions of its meaning? Does endurance or quality change with context? Work done by Melzack and Wall (1965) suggests that pain is as much a "top-down" process as it is "bottom-up". One of the many ways in which pain is shaped "top-down" is through an understanding of the meaning or purpose of the pain endured. Throughout this experiment, 51 participants engaged in the Cold Pressor Task (CPT). The participants were randomly assigned to either an imagined sacrifice condition or the control condition without any pre-experiment instruction. For each participant, pain perception was represented by two measures of time and three independent scores from the McGill Pain Questionnaire Short Form (MPQ-SF) for a total of five measures. A condition by gender interaction was found on one of five pain measures (physiological pain). Main effects of gender were found on three of five pain measures (two time measures and one MPQ-SF measure). These results suggest that men and women perceive pain differently and that a sacrifice context – that is enduring pain so an imagined other will not have to – serves as a poor tool for pain reduction. The effectiveness of the context manipulation is explored, and further consideration is given to the validity of examining existential concerns (i.e. sacrifice, questions of meaning) in laboratory situations.