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Can you influence the sensation of pain through mindfulness?

By 
Felicitas Chiara Franz
|
20/04/2022
Currently studying psychology at HS Fresenius in Frankfurt.

A summary of the second podcast episode

In this episode, Tonka and Philipp talk to Christopher Lalk. Christopher is a psychology student and has been working on the topic of mindfulness and pain perception in his master's thesis. In the course of the episode, he describes the experimental procedure, the results and talks to Tonka and Philipp about the future of mindfulness.

Overview - What is the conversation with Christopher Lalk about?

  • How did Christopher investigate the connection between mindfulness and the perception of pain?
  • What were the results of his study? 
  • What does the research say about mindfulness?
  • Where can mindfulness be applied to promote health and where is it already being applied?
  • What tips does Christopher have for you and/or beginners in the field of mindfulness?

Christopher Lalk is a psychology student and researched in his master's thesis whether mindfulness has a positive effect on the perception of pain.

Course of the study

He used the Cold Pressor Test for this. In this test, the test person immerses their hand in ice water and the time until they pull their hand out again in pain is measured. The test is often used in research on the perception of pain because it does not involve any health risks. In Christopher's experiment, the test subjects were first asked to perform the Cold Pressor Test. If they did not pull their hand out after five minutes, the test was stopped. The next step was to perform various retreats. The test subjects were divided into three groups.

The first group took part in a 15-minute mindfulness intervention, the second in a Loving-Kindness Meditation, i.e. a meditation in which one first shows kindness to oneself and then to other people, and the third group was given a text freed from context to read. The third group thus acted as a control group. After the retreats, the subjects were then asked to take the Cold Pressor Test again.

Results

Contrary to Christopher's expectations, however, neither the mindfulness group nor the lovingkindness group showed better values than the control group. He suspects that, on the one hand, no significant result could have been achieved in his study because an explanation regarding the subject matter was missing for the test subjects, and on the other hand, an exclusion rate could have helped. For example, test subjects who were already able to leave their hand in the water for five minutes before the retreat should have been excluded from the rest of the experiment because they could no longer show any improvement under the existing conditions. In addition, attention must be paid to the motivation of the test subjects, as this has a significant impact on the commitment of the respective participants. 

Despite the results, Christopher is still convinced that mindfulness has a positive effect on the perception of pain. In his research on the topic, which preceded the study, he also found many scientific findings that showed that mindfulness can indeed help against the sensation of pain. Christopher explains that mindfulness does not make the pain go away, but it helps to focus on something else. This is especially beneficial for chronic pain. Mindfulness is already being used in acceptance and commitment therapy and psychosomatic medicine and will continue to be studied so that it can be used in even more areas. 

There have been no studies on Loving-Kindness Meditation and its effects on the perception of pain, but it has been proven that practitioners are in a much better mood after it. Christopher was also able to prove this with his study.

Christopher has also trained as a yoga teacher and now gives regular yoga classes. He likes to start with a short meditation so that the participants can relax. However, Christopher sees yoga and meditation, contrary to their origins, as separate constructs, although one could guide the practitioner towards the other.

When asked how Christopher found his way to mindfulness, he answers that he found it through yoga, took part in an MBSR course, then met regularly with friends to meditate and now meditates via an app. 

Tips for Mindfulness Beginners

As a tip for getting into mindfulness or not giving up, he gives the advice that one should take small steps, i.e. not expect too much of oneself at once. He also thinks it makes sense to get to grips with the subject, for example by reading books on it and finding a group with whom you share your interest. At the end of the interview, Christopher calls for more research into the interplay between body and soul, as this could help trauma patients, among others.

Listen now

About The Mind: Your inspiring psychology podcast

About The Mind: As the name suggests, our podcast delves into people's minds. As psychologists, topics around the psyche and mental health are very important to us. These mainly include the focus on mental training, but also neuroscience, research, sleep, transhumanism, innovation and many other interesting aspects.

We have therefore set ourselves the task of learning more about it and sharing it with you. For this reason, we invite experts from various fields to learn more about their work and their knowledge. In addition, the guests are given the space to share their greatest learnings and challenges with us and, of course, with you. These encounters move us - and we learn that there is still a lot we don't know and want to keep striving for more.

Find all episodes here.

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