Reading Words Hurts: The impact of pain sensitivity on people’s ratings of pain-related words


This study explores the relation between pain sensitivity and the cognitive processing of words. 130 participants evaluated the pain-relatedness of a total of 600 two-syllabic nouns, and subsequently reported on their own pain sensitivity. The results demonstrate that pain-sensitive people (based on their self-report) associate words more strongly with pain than less sensitive people. In particular, concrete nouns like syringe, wound, knife, and cactus, are considered to be more pain-related for those who are more pain-sensitive. We discuss our results in the light of three theoretical frameworks – cognitive bias, prototype theory, embodied account. We argue that the latter is best suited to explain the results of this study in the sense in which it implies the principle of body specificity, according to which different bodily characteristics lead to corresponding differences in the way in which people construct concepts and word meanings.

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