, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 263-276

Spontaneous cognitive strategies for the control of clinical pain and stress

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The spontaneous cognitive strategies employed by 75 patients undergoing dental extractions or mandibular block injections were elicited using a structured interview. Interest focused on the relationship between these strategies and several personality variables, including state and trait anxiety, locus of control, and absorption. In addition, the effect of strategy utilization on perceived pain and stress was assessed. Fourty-four percent of the patients employed cognitive strategies designed to minimize pain and stress, while 37% catastrophized, engaging in cognitive activity which exaggerated the fearful aspects of their experience. Only 19% of the patients denied any cognitive activity during the clinical procedure, and many of these used noncognitive coping strategies. Discriminant analysis revealed that situational anxiety was associated with the use of cognitive coping strategies. Catastrophizing was associated with increasing age, past dental stress, and higher levels of stress vulnerability (high trait anxiety and external locus of control). Copers reported less stress than catastrophizers but not less pain.

This study was conducted at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of M. B. Kenkel and S. Kontas, the dental students, and the dental faculty participating in this study, especially Bruno Kwapis and James Schmidt.