The role of operant conditioning in chronic pain: An experimental investigation

Herta Flor, Bärbel Knost, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of operant conditioning for the development and maintenance of chronic pain was examined in 30 chronic back pain patients (CBP) and 30 matched healthy controls. Half of each group was reinforced for increased, half for decreased pain reports while EEG, EOG, heart rate, skin conductance and muscle tension levels were recorded. Both groups showed similar learning rates, however, the CBP patients displayed slower extinction of both the verbal and the cortical (N150) pain response. In addition, the CBP group displayed prolonged elevated electromyogram levels to the task. These data suggest that CBP patients are more easily influenced by operant conditioning factors than healthy controls and this susceptibility may add to the maintenance of the chronic pain problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-118
Number of pages8
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Electromyogram
  • Evoked potentials
  • Learning
  • Operant factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neurology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Psychology


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