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Comparison of acceptance and distraction strategies in coping with experimentally induced pain

Authors Moore H, Stewart I, Barnes-Holmes D, Barnes-Holmes Y, McGuire B

Received 1 December 2013

Accepted for publication 24 October 2014

Published 17 March 2015 Volume 2015:8 Pages 139—151


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Michael Schatman

Hazel Moore,1 Ian Stewart,1 Dermot Barnes-Holmes,2 Yvonne Barnes-Holmes,2 Brian E McGuire1,3

1School of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway, 2Department of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 3Centre for Pain Research, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

Background: This study compared an acceptance-based strategy with a control-based strategy (distraction) in terms of the ability of participants to tolerate a painful stimulus, across two experiments. In addition, participants were either actively encouraged, or not, to link pain tolerance with pursuit of valued goals to examine the impact of pursuing a personally meaningful goal or value on the extent to which pain will be tolerated.
Methods: Participants in experiment 1 (n=41) and experiment 2 (n=52) were equally assigned to acceptance or distraction protocols. Further, half the participants in each group generated examples from their own lives in which they had pursued a valued objective, while the other half did not. In experiment 2, the values focus was enhanced to examine the impact on pain tolerance.
Results: There were no significant differences overall between the acceptance and distraction groups on pain tolerance in either experiment. However, in experiment 2, individuals classified as accepting in terms of general coping style and who were assigned to the acceptance strategy showed significantly better pain tolerance than accepting individuals who were in the distraction condition. Across both experiments, those with strong goal-driven values in both protocols were more tolerant of pain. Participants appeared to have more difficulty adhering to acceptance than to distraction as a strategy.
Conclusion: Acceptance may be associated with better tolerance of pain, but may also be more difficult to operationalize than distraction in experimental studies. Matching coping style and coping strategy may be most effective, and enhancement of goal-driven values may assist in pain coping.

Keywords: pain, acceptance, values, coping

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