An investigation of the effect of experimental pain on logical reasoning

Pain disrupts attention in order to prioritise avoidance of harm and promote analgesic behaviour. This could in turn have negative effects on higher-level cognitions which rely on attention. In the current paper we examined the effect of thermal pain induction on three measures of reasoning: the Cognitive Reflection Test, Belief Bias Syllogisms task, and Conditional Inference task. In Experiment 1, the thermal pain was set at each participant’s pain threshold. In Experiment 2, it was set to a minimum of 44°C or 7/10 on a VAS scale (whichever was higher). In Experiment 3, performance was compared in no pain, low intensity pain, and high intensity pain conditions. We predicted that the experience of pain would reduce correct responding on the reasoning tasks. However, this was not supported in any of the three studies. We discuss possible interpretations of our failure to reject the null hypothesis and the importance of publishing null results.