BACKGROUND: Pain perception is a multimodal experience composed of sensory, emotional and cognitive dimensions. Accumulating evidence suggests that the chemical senses can influence pain perception, but their relation with phasic pain is still unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of smell and taste having different valence on phasic pain. METHODS: Twenty-eight healthy volunteers received sweet, bitter and neutral odors or gustatory substances while receiving painful stimuli consisting of electrical shocks. Tactile threshold, pain threshold and pain tolerance were collected using the psychophysical method of limits at baseline and in association with smell and taste. Perception of pain intensity and unpleasantness was measured with a numerical rating scale. RESULTS: Sweet smell induced lower ratings of pain intensity than bitter smell when stimuli were delivered at pain threshold. Sweet smell also induced lower ratings of pain unpleasantness than neutral smell when stimuli were delivered at pain tolerance. Sweet taste induced lower ratings of pain unpleasantness than bitter taste when stimuli were delivered at pain threshold. Conversely, pain threshold and pain tolerance per se were not affected by smell and taste. CONCLUSIONS: These findings highlight an effect of sweet substances in reducing the subjective perception of pain intensity and unpleasantness associated to phasic pain. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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