Positive affect and chronic pain: a preregistered systematic review and meta-analysis

Anthony D. Ong, Felix Thoemmes, Kaylin Ratner, Kate Ghezzi-Kopel, M. Carrington Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) is a significant health burden among adults. Standard behavioral therapies typically focus on targeting negative affect (NA) and yield only modest treatment effects. The aims of this study were to systematically review and investigate the association between positive affect (PA) and pain severity among adults with CNCP. Databases that were searched included MEDLINE (PubMed), PsycINFO, CINAHL, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, OLASTER, Open Grey, and PsyArXiv (inception to July 23, 2019). We analyzed studies that: (1) used observational, experimental, or intervention study designs; (2) enrolled individuals with CNCP (pain $ 12 weeks); and (3) reported full quantitative results on outcomes. Two researchers independently screened articles, extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias. The main meta-analysis was followed by subgroup analyses. All analyses were performed using random-effects models. Formal tests for heterogeneity (Q-statistic; I2) and publication bias (p-curve and p-uniform*) were performed. We meta-analyzed 29 studies with 3521 participants. Results demonstrated that PA inversely impacts pain severity in people with CNCP (r 5 20.23). Subgroup analyses showed a significant effect for gender and marginally significant effects for age in studies that adjusted for NA. On average, effect sizes for observational studies were larger in studies with a higher proportion of female respondents and in studies that did not adjust for NA. Finally, larger effect sizes were found in intervention studies with older compared with younger samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1140-1149
Number of pages10
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic pain
  • Meta-analysis
  • Pain severity
  • Positive affect
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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