Focus Article| Volume 12, ISSUE 2, P167-174, February 2011

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Learning About Pain From Others: An Observational Learning Account

Published:November 29, 2010DOI:


      Although direct experience and verbal instruction are important sources in the development of pain-related beliefs and behaviors, accumulating evidence indicates that observation of others in pain may be equally as important. Taking a contemporary view on learning as a starting point, we discuss available evidence on observational learning in the context of pain, highlight its importance for both development and management of chronic pain problems, and discuss potential moderators of observational learning effects. We argue that the capacity to understand and appreciate the experience of another person is fundamental to observational learning, including use of this information to establish the association between pain and antecedent or consequent stimuli. A main objective of this paper is to stimulate research on the role of learning about pain from others. Several lines for further research, including clinical applications, are delineated.


      Based upon a contemporary view on learning, this focus article delineates how pain-related beliefs and behaviors may be learnt by observing others. It is discussed how further research on the acquisition of pain-related beliefs/behaviors might further our understanding of pain and disability.

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