Neuroticism influences brain activity during the experience of visceral pain

Steven J. Coen, Michiko Kano, Adam D. Farmer, Veena Kumari, Vincent Giampietro, Mick Brammer, Steven C.R. Williams, Qasim Aziz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Background & Aims: One particularly important individual dynamic known to influence the experience of pain is neuroticism, of which little is known about in visceral pain research. Our aim was to study the relationship between neuroticism, psychophysiologic response, and brain processing of visceral pain. Methods: Thirty-one healthy volunteers (15 male; age range, 2238 years) participated in the study. The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire was used to assess neuroticism. Skin conductance level, pain ratings, and functional magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired during anticipation of pain and painful esophageal distention. The effect of neuroticism was assessed using correlation analysis. Results: There was a wide spread of neuroticism scores (range, 022) but no influence of neuroticism on skin conductance level and pain tolerance or pain ratings. However, a positive correlation between brain activity and neuroticism during anticipation was found in regions associated with emotional and cognitive pain processing, including the parahippocampus, insula, thalamus, and anterior cingulate cortex. These regions showed a negative correlation with neuroticism during pain (P <.001). Conclusions: This study provides novel data suggesting higher neuroticism is associated with engagement of brain regions responsible for emotional and cognitive appraisal during anticipation of pain but reduced activity in these regions during pain. This may reflect a maladaptive mechanism in those with higher neuroticism that promotes overarousal during anticipation and avoidance coping during pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-917.e1
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Sept


  • Human Brain
  • Neuroticism
  • Pain
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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