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Is pain “all in your mind”? Examining the general public’s view of pain.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Tim Salomons, Richard Harrison, Nat Hansen, James Stazicker, Astrid Grith Sorenson, Paula Thomas, Emma Borg

Original languageEnglish
Accepted/In press14 Apr 2021

King's Authors


By definition, pain is a sensory and emotional experience that is felt in a particular part of the body. The precise relationship between somatic events at the site where pain is experienced, and central processing giving rise to the mental experience of pain remains the subject of debate, but there is little disagreement in scholarly circles that both aspects of pain are critical to its experience. Recent experimental work, however, suggests a public view that is at odds with this conceptualisation. By demonstrating that the public does not necessarily endorse central tenets of the “mental” view of pain (subjectivity, privacy, and incorrigibility), experimental philosophers have argued that the public holds a more “body-centric” view than most clinicians and scholars. Such a discrepancy would have important implications for how the public interacts with pain science and clinical care. In response, we tested the hypothesis that the public is capable of a more “mind-centric” view of pain. Using a series of vignettes, we demonstrate that in situations which highlight mental aspects of pain the public can, and does, recognize pain as a mental phenomenon. We also demonstrate that the public view is subject to context effects, by showing that the public’s view is modified when situations emphasizing mental and somatic aspects of pain are presented together.

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