Out-Thinking Pain: How the Mind can Control Pain - Dr. M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D.

Out-Thinking Pain: How the Mind can Control Pain

Out-Thinking Pain: How the Mind can Control Pain

Psychological factors have an important influence on pain perception. Both in the clinic and in experimental settings, it has been shown that distraction reduces pain. Further, negative emotions increase pain, while positive emotions decrease it. Other more complex psychological states also affect the way we feel pain. For instance, empathy for another person who is suffering increases our own pain experience, and expectation of pain relief underlies much of the placebo effect.

Brain imaging studies show a physical basis for psychological pain modulation. Activity in the brain's pain pathways are seen to be altered by attentional state, positive and negative emotions, empathy, and the administration of a placebo. The same psychological factors activate systems in the brain that control pain, including those stimulated when opiates are given for pain relief.

It is important for the clinician and the patient to understand the influence of one’s psychological state on pain transmission. Such an understanding will not only help those living with pain to better participate in their own pain management, but will also allow clinicians to treat patients more effectively.

Dr. Bushnell taught us the following:

  • How attention and emotions can affect pain
  • How empathy can affect pain perception
  • About the brain mechanisms underlying psychological modulation of pain, including placebo analgesia

Click to view handouts from Dr. Bushnell's Presentation.

Dr. M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D.

Dr. Bushnell is the Harold Griffith Professor of Anesthesia and Professor in Dentistry and Neurology at McGill University.  She is President of the Canadian Pain Society and Treasurer of the International Association for the Study of Pain.  Dr. Bushnell won the Frederick Kerr Award for Basic Research in Pain from the American Pain Society in 2003 and the Distinguished Career Award from the Canadian Pain Society in 2002.  In 2009, she was awarded a senior Canadian Research Chair in Clinical Pain. Dr. Bushnell received a PhD. in Experimental Psychology from the American University in Washington, D.C. in 1977 and postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.  Her research interests include forebrain mechanisms of pain processing, psychological modulation of pain, and neural alternations in chronic pain patients.  Current research projects utilize brain imaging and psychophysical testing to study the neural basis of pain processing in humans, as well as rodent behavioral testing and rodent brain imaging.  Both normal pain processing and aberrant processing after nervous system damage are addressed. She has authored or co-authored over 100 publications in the field.

Event Sponsors: 

This event was co-sponsored by Pain BC, the Canadain Pain Coalition, and the Canadian Institute for Relief of Pain and Disability as part of the "Chonic Pain: The Journey Forward" Webinar Series.