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Effect of Acceptance Versus Attention on Pain Tolerance: Dissecting Two Components of Mindfulness

  • Yuzheng Wang
  • Zhenzhen Qi
  • Stefan G. Hofmann
  • Mei Si
  • Xinghua LiuEmail author
  • Wei Xu



Previous studies have shown that brief mindfulness trainings can have significant analgesic effects. However, the effects of the various components of mindfulness on pain analgesia are not well understood. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of two components of mindfulness interventions—attention and acceptance—on pain analgesia.


One hundred and nineteen healthy college students without prior mindfulness experience underwent a cold-pressor test to measure pain tolerance before and after the training. Pain intensity, tolerance, distress, threshold, and endurance time were also tested. The participants were randomly assigned to one of the following four conditions: (1) acceptance of pain, (2) attention to pain, (3) acceptance of and attention to pain, or (4) control.


The results showed that both the acceptance strategy and the combined acceptance and attention group increased pain endurance and tolerance after training. Furthermore, the acceptance group had longer pain endurance and tolerance times than the attention and control groups.


These results suggest that acceptance of pain is more important than attention to pain. Study limitations and future research directions are discussed.


Mindfulness Acceptance Attention Pain Mechanism Short-term 



The authors thank Johann D’Souza for the proof-reading work.

Funding Sources

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation of China (Project 31271114). Dr. Hofmann receives financial support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (as part of the Humboldt Prize), NIH/NCCIH (R01AT007257), NIH/NIMH (R01MH099021, U01MH108168), and the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition – Special Initiative. He receives compensation for his work as an advisor from the Palo Alto Health Sciences and for his work as a Subject Matter Expert from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and SilverCloud Health, Inc. He also receives royalties and payments for his editorial work from various publishers.

Author Contributions

WY and LX conceived and designed the study, executed the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. QZ collaborated with the collection of the data. SH, SM, and XW collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. All the authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethics Statement

The study received ethical approval from the Academic Committee of College of Psychology, Capital Normal University. No adverse events were reported in this study.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants.

Supplementary material

12671_2019_1091_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beijing Key Laboratory of Learning and Cognition, Department of PsychologyCapital Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Cognitive ScienceRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA
  5. 5.Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health, School of Psychological and Cognitive SciencesPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  6. 6.School of PsychologyNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina

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