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Measuring pain: An introspective look at introspection

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Abstract:



The measurement of pain depends upon subjective reports, but we know very little about how research subjects or pain patients produce self-reported judgments. Representationalist assumptions dominate the field of pain research and lead to the critical conjecture that the person in pain examines the contents of consciousness before making a report about the sensory or affective magnitude of pain experience as well as about its nature. Most studies to date have investigated what Fechner termed “outer psychophysics”: the relationship between characteristics of an external stimulus and the magnitude and nature of pain experience. In contrast, Fechner originally envisioned that “inner psychophysics”should investigate the relationship between physiological states and subjective experience. Despite the lack of established research tradition, inner psychophysics has a potential utility in elucidating underlying mechanisms for the production of phenomenal self-report. We illustrate this, using causal modeling analyses of the accuracy of self-reported pain ratings from our laboratory. We submit that the results are inconsistent with representationalist assumptions. Converging trends from several domains of consciousness studies seem to suggest that we need to abandon the unquestioned doctrine of representationalism and search for a more viable framework for understanding the generation of subjective self-report.

© 2002 Elsevier Science (USA)

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1053-8100(02)00019-3

Publication date: December 1, 2002

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