Pain Measurement by Signal Detection Theory

  • W. Crawford Clark
Part of the Readings from the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience book series (REN)


Pain is a subjective experience with somatosensory, emotional, cognitive, and other components; yet, if we are to understand and treat pain, we must measure pain in a reliable and valid manner. To clarify these problems, various psychophysical models have been used to examine verbal reports to calibrated electrical, thermal, pressure, and other physical stimuli. These psychophysical procedures include the traditional threshold, Stevens magnitude estimation, various multidimensional scaling procedures, as well as signal detection, or more descriptively, sensory decision theory (SDT). The merit of the SDT approach resides in its unique ability to quantify separately sensory and attitudinal parameters. The index of discriminabil-ity, d’ or P(A), measures the accuracy (it is possible in the binary decision procedure to score the subject’s response as right or wrong) with which an individual distinguishes among stimuli of various intensities. This index of sensory performance has been demonstrated to be essentially uninfluenced by changes in the subjects’ expectation, mood, motivation, and other attitudinal variables.


False Alarm False Alarm Rate Pain Measurement Pain Report Psychophysical Procedure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Further reading

  1. Buchsbaum MS, Davis GC, Coppola R, Naber D (1981): Opiate pharmacology and individual differences. I Psychophysical pain measurements. Pain 10:357–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Clark WC (1974): Pain sensitivity and the report of pain: An introduction to sensory decision theory. Anesthesiology, 40:272–287. Reprinted in Weisenberg M, Tursky B, eds (1976): Pain: New Perspectives in Therapy and Research. New York: Plenum Press, 195–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Clark WC, Yang JC (1983): Applications of sensory decision theory to problems in laboratory and clinical pain. In: Pain Measurement and Assessment. Melzack R, ed. New York: Raven Press 15–25Google Scholar
  4. McNicol D (1972): A Primer of Signal Detection Theory. London: Allen & UnwinGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston, Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Crawford Clark

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations