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Papers of the Week

Papers: 29 Jun 2024 - 5 Jul 2024

2024 Jun 28

J Pain


Could relationship-based learnt beliefs and expectations contribute to physiological vulnerability of chronic pain? Making a case to consider attachment in pain research.


Stamp GE, Wadley AL, Iacovides S


Pain is an interpersonal and inherently social experience. Pain perception and administration of medical treatment all occur in a particular environmental and social context. Early environmental influences, and early learning experiences and interactions, condition the body’s response to different threats (like pain), ultimately shaping the underlying neurophysiology. These early interactions and experiences also determine what situations are perceived as threatening, as well as our belief in our own ability to self-manage, and our belief in others to offer support, during perceived threats. These beliefs intrinsically drive the combination of behaviours that emerge in response to perceived threats, including pain. Such behaviours can be categorised into attachment styles. In this interdisciplinary review, we synthesise and summarise evidence from the neurobiological, psychobiological, psychosocial and psychobehavioural fields, to describe how these beliefs are embedded in the brain’s prediction models to generate a series of expectations/perceptions around the level of safety/threat in different contexts. As such, these beliefs may predict how one experiences, and responds to, pain; with potentially significant implications for the development and management of chronic pain. Little attention has been directed to the effect of adult attachment style on pain in research studies and in the clinical setting. Using interdisciplinary evidence, we argue why we think this interaction merits further consideration and research. PERSPECTIVE: This review explores the influence of attachment styles on pain perception, suggesting a link between social connections and chronic pain development. It aligns with recent calls to emphasise the social context in pain research and advocates for increased focus on adult attachment styles in research and clinical practice.