Past-Oriented v. Future-Oriented Reappraisal for Thermal Pain Modulation


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Cognitive reappraisal is considered an effective emotion regulation technique for reducing pain. Current categorizations of cognitive reappraisal are generally divided into self-focused versus situation-focused. Recent research, however, suggests a novel approach to categorizing reappraisal: past-oriented versus future-oriented (Vlasenko, 2021). In the current work, I provide an overview of existing knowledge about cognitive reappraisal in the context of pain and conduct a study to examine the possible temporal aspects of reappraisal for thermal pain modulation. Based on previous findings that anticipation is more evocative than retrospection (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007), I hypothesized that future-oriented reappraisal would have a greater impact on self-reported pain ratings during painful heat stimulation. The results, however, demonstrated that there was no significant difference between pain ratings of past-oriented and future-oriented reappraisal conditions. These unexpected findings suggest that temporal aspects of cognitive reappraisal may not play a role in regulating emotions during acute thermal pain stimulation. Alternatively, these results might be attributed to limitations in the experimental design. Future research should consider the vividness and emotional valence of the past memories and future imagined events, as well as the participants’ familiarity with the type of pain elicited by the stimulus and their anxiety levels surrounding the anticipation of pain.