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Papers of the Week

Papers: 23 Sep 2023 - 29 Sep 2023

Psychology, Social Aspects, Translational

Human Studies, Neurobiology


2023 Sep 22

J Pain


Soreness Reminds Me of Grief: Patients with Chronic Pain Show Less Differentiated Representations of Emotional Feelings and Bodily States.


Lin XX, Chen YH, Wang YZ, Sun YB, Wang N, Luo F, Wang JY


People experience similarities between emotional feelings and bodily states on a daily basis, but both the magnitude and pervasiveness of this experiential similarity varies across individuals. Inspired by previous findings that chronic pain (CP) is characterized by strengthened pain-affect coupling and a reduced interoceptive accuracy, we conducted two cross-sectional studies to examine whether patients with CP would exhibit less differentiated perception and mental representation of emotional feelings and bodily states. In Study 1 (N=500), patients with CP and healthy controls (HCs) completed a self-report questionnaire that asked explicitly about the perceived similarity between five basic emotion categories and a series of bodily states. In Study 2 (N=73), a specially designed false memory test was administered to examine whether patients with CP would have reduced differentiation of concepts of negative emotion and somatic distress. We found that patients with CP perceived greater and more pervasive similarities between emotional feelings and bodily states, as indicated by higher questionnaire scores and denser, less specialized bipartite emotion-body networks, both associated with lower subjective interoceptive accuracy. Furthermore, patients with CP formed false memories for negative emotion words (e.g., grief) more readily than HCs after memorizing somatic distress words (e.g., soreness), as if they represented negative emotion and somatic distress as a single, enmeshed semantic category. Our findings extend previous literature by demonstrating reduced discrimination between emotional and bodily experiences in CP that is not restricted to pain-related emotional and sensory experiences and may be related to a fundamentally less differentiated interoception. PERSPECTIVES: This study shows that patients with chronic pain have a profoundly less differentiated perception and implicit conceptualization of emotional feelings and bodily states, which appears to be associated with altered interoception. These findings may provide new perspectives on why they often experience a stronger pain-affect coupling.