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The Impact of Tonic Pain on Impulsive Decision-Making
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Pain impairs self-regulation and cognitive abilities related to decision-making. Additionally, clinical chronic pain patients have demonstrated impaired performance on risky decision-making tasks, often choosing immediate rewards at the cost of future consequences. Based on this literature, experiencing pain may lead to an increase in impulsive decision-making by demonstrating an increased preference for immediate rewards at the cost of delayed rewards on a measure of delay discounting (DD). Using a mixed between-group (no pain vs. pain)/within-subjects repeated measures design (DD before and during the manipulation), participants’ delay discounting rates were assessed before and while experiencing either a no pain control (n = 38) or a painful, inflammatory heat stimulus (n = 38). Contrary to the hypothesis, participants in the pain demonstrated a shift in preference towards larger, delayed rewards over time (p = .024). The no pain control group did not experience a significant shift in preference over time (p = .051). The results indicate that those that experienced pain displayed a reduction in impulsive decision-making. This shift towards larger, delayed rewards is in accordance with literature on experimental stressors and risky decision-making. This shift in reward preference may be due to a decrease in reward sensitivity.
Rassu, Fenan Samson (2016). The Impact of Tonic Pain on Impulsive Decision-Making. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from