If I remember my movies correctly, in “The Punisher”—a B-movie making its rounds on cable—hero Tom Jane “tortures” someone to get information. After an elaborate build up of what the torture will feel and smell like—he administers the torture—placing an ice pop against the would-be informant’s flesh while he burns meat on a grill—all outside the vision of the informant. Of course, Jane gets the information he wants. Now, a research study confirms the effectiveness of what Jane did. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences but is widely reported on the Net. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist University Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC—led by Tetsuo Koyama--found that subjects “experienced” pain (in part) in accordance with what they expected. So, those who were told that they were going to receive a heat stimulus that was more intense (and painful) than the previous one, actually experienced greater pain. When subjects expected moderate pain but actually were given high pain they rated the intensity of the pain about 28 percent lower than when they expected a high level of pain and did in fact receive it. Twenty-eight percent is approximately the pain reduction a person would get from a shot of morphine.
There seem lots of implications from this study. One very practical one is to train people to manage pain. But, there are lots of other implications--for perception and expectations, for verbal messages, for persuasion.