Alexithymia and Fear of Pain Independently Predict Heat Pain Intensity Ratings among Undergraduate University Students
BACKGROUND: Alexithymia is a disturbance in awareness and cognitive processing of affect that is associated with over-reporting of physical symptoms, including pain. The relationship between alexithymia and other psychological constructs that are often associated with pain has yet to be evaluated.OBJECTIVES: The present study examined the importance of alexithymia in the pain experience in relation to other integral psychological components of Turk’s diathesis-stress model of chronic pain and disability, including fear of pain, anxiety sensitivity, pain avoidance and pain catastrophizing.METHODS: Heat pain stimuli, using a magnitude estimation procedure, and five questionnaires (Anxiety Sensitivity Index, Fear of Pain Questionnaire III, Pain Catastrophizing Scale, avoidance subscale of the Pain Anxiety Symptoms Scale-20 and Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20) were administered to 67 undergraduate students (44 women) with a mean (± SD) age of 20.39±3.77 years.RESULTS: Multiple linear regression analysis revealed that sex, fear of pain and alexithymia were the only significant predictors of average heat pain intensity (F[6, 60]=5.43; R2=0.35; P=0.008), accounting for 6.8%, 20.0% and 9.6% of unique variance, respectively. Moreover, the difficulty identifying feelings and difficulty describing feelings subscales, but not the externally oriented thinking subscale of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 significantly predicted average heat pain intensity.CONCLUSIONS: Individuals with higher levels of alexithymia or increased fear of pain reported higher average pain intensity ratings. The relationship between alexithymia and pain intensity was unrelated to other psychological constructs usually associated with pain. These findings suggest that difficulties with emotion regulation, either through reduced emotional awareness via alexithymia or heightened emotional awareness via fear of pain, may negatively impact the pain experience.