Pain pp 195-222 | Cite as

Pain Sensitivity and the Report of Pain: An Introduction to Sensory Decision Theory

  • W. Crawford Clark


The purpose of this paper is to introduce a new psychophysical procedure for the objective measurement of experimental pain. This technique, known as “signal detection theory,” or more descriptively, “sensory decision theory,” distinguishes between a person’s report of pain and his sensory experiences induced by noxious stimuli. Obviously, a procedure which permits the separation of the attitudinal component of the pain response from the sensory component should prove to be of great value to investigators studying the action of analgesics, and to physicians concerned with the problem of evaluating clinical pain. Sensory decision theory has recently been used to study the effects of placebos1 and analgesics,2,3 as well as sex and age4 on experimental pain in man. However, a complete description of the theory and a detailed exposition of the calculations required to evaluate the variables defined by the mathematical model are not readily available. This paper provides an introduction to sensory decision theory by presenting in detail a segment of a larger study by Clark, Goodman, and Mehl5 on the effects of suggestion on the pain response to noxious thermal stimulation.


False Alarm Pain Threshold Pain Sensitivity Sensory Experience Pain Response 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Crawford Clark
    • 1
  1. 1.New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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