Theoretical perspectives on the relation between catastrophizing and pain

Michael J.L. Sullivan, Beverly Thorn, Jennifer A. Haythornthwaite, Francis Keefe, Michelle Martin, Laurence A. Bradley, John C. Lefebvre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1525 Scopus citations


The tendency to "catastrophize" during painful stimulation contributes to more intense pain experience and increased emotional distress. Catastrophizing has been broadly conceived as an exaggerated negative "mental set" brought to bear during painful experiences. Although findings have been consistent in showing a relation between catastrophizing and pain, research in this area has proceeded in the relative absence of a guiding theoretical framework. This article reviews the literature on the relation between catastrophizing and pain and examines the relative strengths and limitations of different theoretical models that could be advanced to account for the pattern of available findings. The article evaluates the explanatory power of a schema activation model, an appraisal model, an attention model, and a communal coping model of pain perception. It is suggested that catastrophizing might best be viewed from the perspective of hierarchical levels of analysis, where social factors and social goals may play a role in the development and maintenance of catastrophizing, whereas appraisal-related processes may point to the mechanisms that link catastrophizing to pain experience. Directions for future research are suggested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-64
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 31 2001


  • Catastrophizing
  • Depression
  • Disability
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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