People with lower personality dimensions of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness also tended to be more vulnerable to pain
Pain is the signal that our body sends when something isn't right. However, pain is also much more than just this. Pain is a complex experience that might vary depending on a lot of factors. Even if we feel pain, how we perceive it and how we feel about it might change a lot depending on the circumstances. There has been a lot of research on pain perception to better understand how to reduce the experience of pain. So, what are the factors that influence pain perception?
The first factor that can be identified is emotion. Emotion might change how we perceive pain. When people have a positive mood, they feel the pain as being reduced, while negative mood might amplify the experience of pain (Meahger, Arnau, & Rhudy, 2001). So people who feel upset might also feel the pain as being stronger than those who feel content or joyful.
'' Culturally, men are expected to be “tougher”, which might make them less likely to report higher pain levels''
Another important factor is the way we have of thinking about the pain. Some specific patterns might increase pain. One thinking pattern that is associated with differences in pain response is catastrophising. Catastrophising means perceiving the pain as being very threatening or severe. When people think about pain this way, they feel it more (Keefe et al., 2000).
Gender appears to also play a role in pain perception, however, this is a debated relationship. It seems that men might report less pain and lower pain levels than women, although there may be some other factors that lead to this link. Culturally, men are expected to be “tougher”, which might make them less likely to report higher pain levels. This means that gender might influence the perception of pain but it might depend on many other factors (Jarrett, 2011).
Ethnicity also appears to play a role in pain perception. White people appear to be less sensitive to pain than people from other ethnicity. However, this link is also associated with a variety of factors, both biological and cultural. Some cultures prescribe a more stoic response to pain as being “better”. The ethnicity and culture of a person will also influence their perception of pain and their response to it (Jarrett, 2011).
Personality is another important factor. One variable associated with pain perception is neuroticism. Neuroticism is a personality dimension that is associated with a higher sensitivity to pain. Neuroticism can be defined as a dimension of personality associated with a proneness to anxiety and pessimism. People with lower personality dimensions of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness also tended to be more vulnerable to pain. Another personality factor associated with pain perception is a tendency to excessive harm avoidance and low self-efficacy. People who feel they can't handle pain might experience it more strongly (Jarrett, 2011).
It is also possible to consciously change factors associated with pain perception. For example, mindfulness is something that influences pain perception and that can be taught. Mindfulness involves awareness of the current state and sensations, and it has been shown to reduce the perception of pain (Su et al., 2016).
Overall, there are many factors that influence pain perception. Personality, gender, culture, thinking, and many other things impact the way in which we experience pain.