Dissociation : Vol. 5, No. 4, p. 205-209 : Pain and suffering as a function of dissociation level and instructional set
Giolas, Marina H.
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Giolas, Marina H.
The Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) developed by Bernstein and Putnam is a frequently used measure of dissociation. This study is the first to validate the scale against a behavioral criterion by demonstrating differences between high and low dissociating female college students in their response to physical pain. Forty-eight female students who scored above 20 on the DES were selected for the high dissociating group, and 48 scoring below 20 on the DES were selected for the low dissociating group. Each subject underwent an ischemic pain procedure under one of three instruction conditions: Imaginal (imagine your arm becoming numb and insensitive); distraction (concentrate on your breathing); or, control (no instructions concerning pain reduction). During the procedure, at one minute intervals, subjects rated both their pain (sensory experience) and suffering (emotional experience); the procedure was terminated at the subject 's request or after 20 minutes. Across all instruction conditions high dissociators tolerated the pain significantly longer than low dissociators. Analysis of pain and suffering ratings during the first seven minutes of the procedure revealed a difference between high and low dissociators in the imaginal condition: high dissociators reported significantly lower degrees of suffering than low dissociators, although they did not differ from low dissociators in their ratings of sensory pain. Across conditions, DES scores were negatively correlated with subjects' overall suffering ratings (r = -.20, p<.05), but not with their overall pain ratings. These results are consistent with the view that dissociation is a coping mechanism enabling subjects to better tolerate pain; moreover, they suggest that imagination plays a role in this process.