Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2023

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis



First Advisor

Todd Smitherman

Second Advisor

John Young

Third Advisor

Mervin Matthew

Relational Format



Introduction. Loneliness has been found to affect individuals’ physical and mental health, but there is limited research exploring the effect loneliness has on pain. Some studies suggest that social exclusion numbs pain, and others indicate it can lead to hypersensitivity. This study used a sample of individuals with migraine to investigate the relationship of loneliness to pain and psychological variables. We hypothesized that loneliness would predict lower pain tolerance and pain threshold and that it would be positively correlated with disability and negative emotions.

Methods. Sixty-eight undergraduate females recruited for a larger study manipulating social exclusion among individuals with and without migraine participated. They completed a diagnostic interview of headache symptoms (SDIH-3) followed by measures of psychological variables (UCLA Loneliness scale; DASS-21) and headache disability (HIT-6). They then participated in a cold pressor task measuring pain threshold and tolerance. Regressions were used to quantify the role of loneliness in predicting pain variables. Correlations quantified relations between loneliness and the psychological variables. Hierarchical linear regression was used to assess the unique role of loneliness in headache-related disability after controlling for depression.

Results. Participants indicated moderate levels of loneliness and very severe impact of headache on their daily lives. Loneliness did not significantly predict pain tolerance (R2 = 1.4%, p = .33), threshold (R2 = 1.1%, p = .40), or severity (R2 = 4.2%, p = .09). Higher loneliness was associated with increased anxiety (r = .43, p < .001), depression (r = .66, p < .001), stress (r = .49, p < .001), and headache-related disability (r = .26; p < .001). Depression accounted for 15.5% of the variance in headache disability (p = .001), but loneliness did not account for any additional unique variance beyond depression (R2 change = 0.0%; p = .94).

Discussion. The present study aimed to assess the relationship between loneliness and pain variables in individuals with migraine. Loneliness was not associated with objective pain variables but was predictive of negative emotions and headache disability. These results may have been influenced by the nature of the independent variable, differences between loneliness and social isolation, prior pain experience among individuals with migraine, and the impact of Cyberball from the larger study. Future studies may continue to explore common migraine coping strategies that may increase feelings of loneliness, and also whether withdrawal may inadvertently increase feelings of loneliness in individuals with migraine.

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