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Beyond Sticks and Stones

Friday, December 19, 2014
Geri Lynn Baumblatt, MA The old adage ends “…but words will never hurt me.” And most of us agree words may hurt feelings but not cause physical pain. However, we also know the emotional and physical are not completely discrete and separate experiences. We’ve all experienced how language or even a friendly text message can affect our mood and emotions. But more evidence points to language having an impact on at least some physical experiences.
 
This year, at the International Conference on Communication in Healthcare, a symposium on communication and pain discussed recent research showing that while words, themselves, may not literally hurt people, language, tone, or just avoiding the word “pain” can have an impact.
 
For example, women recovering from a C-section were either asked: “How are you feeling?” or “Do you have pain?” Did the phrasing of the question change reported pain? It did.
  • When asked “How are you feeling?” only 24% of women reported pain.
  • And when asked, “Do you have pain?” that percentage more than doubled, with 54% reporting pain.
A similar study asking women to rate “pain” vs. “comfort” on a 0-10 point scale also found the women who were explicitly asked about pain had higher pain scores.
 
As psychometricians and political pollsters know, how we ask questions matters. And that’s not always a bad thing. In this case, asking a more open-ended question may improve the experience or perception of pain.

Tags: communication, pain management
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