Brief compassion-focused imagery dampens physiological pain responses
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractAffiliative processes are postulated to improve pain coping. Comparatively, compassion-focused imagery (CFI) also stimulates affiliate affect systems with a burgeoning behavioural, cognitive and physiological evidence base. Thus, the purpose of the present research was to investigate if engaging in brief CFI could improve pain coping. Utilising a randomised repeated measures crossover design, 37 participants were subjected to experimental pain (cold pressor) following counter-balanced engagement with CFI or control imagery, 1 week apart. Salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) and questionnaire measures of emotional responding were taken: at baseline, following introduction to the imagery condition (anticipation), and immediately after the cold pressor pain task (actual). Participants exhibited increases in sAA levels in response to pain following control imagery but, no such changes were observed following CFI (i.e. there was a significant time-by-condition interaction). Pain tolerance (the length of time participants immersed their hands in the cold pressor) did not differ by imagery condition. However, sAA responses to actual pain predicted decreased pain tolerance in the CFI condition. Additionally, anticipatory sAA response predicted increased pain tolerance across both conditions. None of the emotional measures of well-being differed by imagery condition, nor by condition over time. These data demonstrate that using CFI can curtail a physiological stress response to pain, as indicated by increases in sAA in the control imagery condition only, following pain; pain tolerance was not influenced by CFI. Compassion-based approaches may therefore help people cope with the stress associated with pain.
CitationMaratos, F.A. and Sheffield, D., (2020). 'Brief compassion-focused imagery dampens physiological pain responses'. Mindfulness, 11, pp. 1-11.
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media LLC