Motivations underlying self-infliction of pain during thinking for pleasure

Andreas B. Eder*, Franzisca Maas, Alexander Schubmann, Anand Krishna, Thorsten M. Erle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Previous research suggested that people prefer to administer unpleasant electric shocks to themselves rather than being left alone with their thoughts because engagement in thinking is an unpleasant activity. The present research examined this negative reinforcement hypothesis by giving participants a choice of distracting themselves with the generation of electric shock causing no to intense pain. Four experiments (N = 254) replicated the result that a large proportion of participants opted to administer painful shocks to themselves during the thinking period. However, they administered strong electric shocks to themselves even when an innocuous response option generating no or a mild shock was available. Furthermore, participants inflicted pain to themselves when they were assisted in the generation of pleasant thoughts during the waiting period, with no difference between pleasant versus unpleasant thought conditions. Overall, these results question that the primary motivation for the self-administration of painful shocks is avoidance of thinking. Instead, it seems that the self-infliction of pain was attractive for many participants, because they were curious about the shocks, their intensities, and the effects they would have on them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11247
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Pain
  • Pain Measurement/methods
  • Pleasure


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