There is growing evidence that enhanced sensitivity to painful clinical procedures and chronic pain are related to greater sensitivity to other sensory inputs, such as bitter taste. We examined cross-modal sensitivities in two studies. Study 1 assessed associations between bitter taste sensitivity, pain tolerance, and fear of pain in 48 healthy young adults. Participants were classified as non-tasters, tasters and super-tasters using a bitter taste test (6-n-propythiouracil; PROP). The latter group had significantly higher fear of pain (Fear of Pain Questionnaire) than tasters (p=.036, effect size r =.48). There was only a trend for an association between bitter taste intensity ratings and intensity of pain at the point of pain tolerance in a cold pressor test (p=.04). In Study 2, 40 healthy young adults completed the Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile before rating intensity and unpleasantness of innocuous (33 °C), moderate (41 °C), and high intensity (44 °C) thermal pain stimulations. The sensory-sensitivity subscale was positively correlated with both intensity and unpleasantness ratings. Canonical correlation showed that only sensitivity to audition and touch (not taste/smell) were associated with intensity of moderate and high (not innocuous) thermal stimuli. Together these findings suggest that there are cross-modal associations predominantly between sensitivity to exteroceptive inputs (i.e., taste, touch, sound) and the affective dimensions of pain, including noxious heat and intolerable cold pain, in healthy adults. These cross-modal sensitivities may arise due to greater psychological aversion to salient sensations, or from shared neural circuitry for processing disparate sensory modalities.
- Bitter sensitivity
- Cold pressor test