Background: While the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the thermal grill illusion of pain (TGI) are thoroughly studied, psychological determinants remain mainly unknown. The present study aimed to investigate whether cognitive and affective personality traits encompassing rumination, interoception, and suggestibility may be identified as characteristics favouring the elicitation of paradoxical pain experiences.
Methods: The dominant hand of 54 healthy volunteers was stimulated with a water-bath driven thermal grill providing an interlaced temperature combination of 15 and 41°C. Pain intensity and pain unpleasantness perceptions were rated on a combined verbal-numerical scale (NRS). Traits were assessed via questionnaires, the heartbeat-tracking task, and warmth suggestions.
Results: Logistic regression analyses uncovered trait rumination and interoceptive accuracy (IA) as major predictors of the likelihood of the illusive pain occurrence (all p < .05). Rumination and suggestibility had an impact on unpleasant pain perceptions.
Conclusion: Our findings allowed to identify psychological factors substantially involved in the individual pre-disposition to reporting painful sensations in the thermal grill paradigm. These psychological characteristics may also be relevant in the context of central neuropathic pain, which to a large extent incorporates the same neural pathways.