Acceptance, Cognitive Restructuring, and Distraction as Coping Strategies for Acute Pain

Published:January 28, 2013DOI:


      Little is known about treatment mechanisms underlying acceptance strategies. Acceptance is a strategy that is expected to increase pain tolerance more than distraction, while distraction should lead to lower pain intensity. The effect of cognitive restructuring on experimental pain has not yet been investigated. The present study aimed to explore differential short-term effects of acceptance, distraction, and cognitive restructuring on pain tolerance and intensity. Pain was induced in a sample of 109 female students using a thermode. We conducted analyses of covariance with instruction as the independent variable and posttest scores on pain variables as dependent variables, covarying for pretest scores. In addition, adherence to instructions and credibility of instructions were included as covariates. Acceptance led to a higher increase in pain tolerance than did cognitive restructuring of pain-related thoughts. No differences were detected between either acceptance and distraction or distraction and cognitive restructuring with respect to pain tolerance. Distraction led to lower pain intensity compared to acceptance. Cognitive restructuring did not differ from either acceptance or distraction with respect to pain intensity. As a short-term strategy, cognitive restructuring was not as useful as acceptance in increasing pain tolerance. Further studies should evaluate the preconditions under which different strategies are most effective.


      This study demonstrated that acceptance was superior to cognitive restructuring in increasing tolerance for experimentally induced pain, but was inferior to distraction with respect to decreasing pain intensity. Knowledge about the types of strategies that are useful in targeting diverse pain-related outcome measures is important for efforts to refine the treatment of chronic pain.

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