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Subjective utility moderates bidirectional effects of conflicting motivations on pain perception


Becker, Susanne; Gandhi, Wiebke; Chen, Yan Jun; Schweinhardt, Petra (2017). Subjective utility moderates bidirectional effects of conflicting motivations on pain perception. Scientific Reports, 7(1):7790.

Abstract

Minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure are conflicting motivations when pain and reward co-occur. Decisions to prioritize reward consumption or pain avoidance are assumed to lead to pain inhibition or facilitation, respectively. Such decisions are a function of the subjective utility of the stimuli involved, i.e. the relative value assigned to the stimuli to compare the potential outcomes of a decision. To test perceptual pain modulation by varying degrees of motivational conflicts and the role of subjective utility, we implemented a task in which healthy volunteers had to decide between accepting a reward at the cost of receiving a nociceptive electrocutaneous stimulus or rejecting both. Subjective utility of the stimuli was assessed by a matching task between the stimuli. Accepting reward coupled to a nociceptive stimulus resulted in decreased perceived intensity, while rejecting the reward to avoid pain resulted in increased perceived intensity, but in both cases only if a high motivational conflict was present. Subjective utility of the stimuli involved moderated these bidirectional perceptual effects: the more a person valued money over pain, the more perceived intensity increased or decreased. These findings demonstrate pain modulation when pain and reward are simultaneously present and highlight the importance of subjective utility for such modulation.

Abstract

Minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure are conflicting motivations when pain and reward co-occur. Decisions to prioritize reward consumption or pain avoidance are assumed to lead to pain inhibition or facilitation, respectively. Such decisions are a function of the subjective utility of the stimuli involved, i.e. the relative value assigned to the stimuli to compare the potential outcomes of a decision. To test perceptual pain modulation by varying degrees of motivational conflicts and the role of subjective utility, we implemented a task in which healthy volunteers had to decide between accepting a reward at the cost of receiving a nociceptive electrocutaneous stimulus or rejecting both. Subjective utility of the stimuli was assessed by a matching task between the stimuli. Accepting reward coupled to a nociceptive stimulus resulted in decreased perceived intensity, while rejecting the reward to avoid pain resulted in increased perceived intensity, but in both cases only if a high motivational conflict was present. Subjective utility of the stimuli involved moderated these bidirectional perceptual effects: the more a person valued money over pain, the more perceived intensity increased or decreased. These findings demonstrate pain modulation when pain and reward are simultaneously present and highlight the importance of subjective utility for such modulation.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Balgrist University Hospital, Swiss Spinal Cord Injury Center
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:10 August 2017
Deposited On:10 Oct 2017 13:12
Last Modified:10 Oct 2017 13:14
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2045-2322
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-08454-4
PubMed ID:28798478

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