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Many patients with chronic pain also exhibit elevated levels of health anxiety. This study examined the effect of health anxiety on the use of safety-seeking behaviors (SSBs) in pain-provoking situations. Participants were 20 chronic back pain patients with high health anxiety (Group H), 20 with low health anxiety (Group L) and 20 pain-free controls (Group C). Two physical tasks were video recorded, and compared both for overt pain behavior (identified by blind observers following a standardized procedure) and for the occurrence of SSB (identified by showing the participants video playback and asking them to specify motivation for all actions/behaviors displayed during the tasks). While there were no differences in the display of overt pain behaviors, Group H deployed a greater number of SSBs than Groups L and C. This finding held true for both tasks and remained significant when concurrent pain and mood ratings were statistically controlled for. SSB was correlated with catastrophizing thoughts but not pain intensity; pain intensity was correlated with overt pain behavior but not catastrophizing. Taken together, these findings suggest that SSB is distinct from overt pain behavior and may be a defining characteristic of chronic pain patients reporting high levels of health anxiety.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Res Ther

Publication Date





2821 - 2835


Adaptation, Psychological, Adult, Anxiety Disorders, Back Pain, Case-Control Studies, Chronic Disease, Female, Health Behavior, Humans, Male, Middle Aged