Chronic pain sufferers key in on certain words
Here is yet another example about how words matter. A recent New York University research study showed that people who suffer from chronic pain react stronger when they hear words like agony and distress while going through pain.
The current study, “More than meets the eye: Visual attention biases in individuals reporting chronic pain” was published in the Journal of Pain Research, and incorporated an eye-tracker when words were said. That is one of the more sophisticated measuring tools to test reaction time.
“People suffering from chronic pain pay more frequent and longer attention to pain-related words than individuals who are pain-free,” says Samantha Fashler, lead author in the study, in a news release. “Our eye movements — the things we look at — generally reflect what we attend to, and knowing how and what people pay attention to can be helpful in determining who develops chronic pain.”
The test called a dot-probe task involved simultaneously putting a pain-associated word and a neutral word on either side of a computer screen. The two words remained on the screen for a short duration, after which a dot is presented in the location of one of the words. The participant is then asked to indicate the side of the screen on which the dot appears as quickly and accurately as possible by pressing one of two keys. The study took 113 people—51 with chronic pain and 62 without—and performed tests using neutral and sensory pain-related words.
Chronic pain was defined as the presence of ongoing pain that had persisted for three months or longer and participated either had pain in their neck or back, ankle or knee, shoulder, stomach, hip or headaches and migraines. They tracked reaction time and eye movement when certain words were placed in front of them. The eye-tracking technology captured eye gaze patterns with such precision that researchers could determine how frequently and how long individuals looked at sensory pain words. Medical officials say it wasn’t surprising that certain words trigger a stronger reaction.
“When you are dealing with patients, whether that is mental health or physical health, it’s important to watch the words we say,” says Joseph Smith, psychiatric consultant at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “It can make all the difference in the world between a patient hearing the advice as good sound advice or being combative and rejecting anything they hear.”
Smith adds, “The use of language provides patients with the therapeutic comfort they need to process through, and express their issues in more thoughtful and empowering ways.”
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