Executive functions, self-regulation, and chronic pain: A review

Lise Solberg Nes, Abbey R. Roach, Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


Background: Chronic pain conditions are complicated and challenging to live with. Capacity to adjust to such conditions may depend on the ability to self-regulate, that is, the ability to alter thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Self-regulation appears to rely on executive cognitive functions, and the current review, therefore, sought to draw attention to the impact of self-regulatory capacity and executive functions on chronic pain. Discussion: Chronic pain conditions present with complex interactions of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physiological components for which self-regulatory ability is crucial. The ability to self-regulate varies, and self-regulatory strength appears to be a limited resource that can be fatigued. The many challenges of chronic pain conditions could, therefore, tax self-regulatory strength, leading to self-regulatory deficits. Conclusion: The current review proposes a relationship among pain, self-regulatory capacity, self-regulatory demands, executive functions, and self-regulatory fatigue, suggesting that executive functions and self-regulatory deficits are indeed part of the etiology and maintenance of chronic pain conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Chronic pain
  • Executive functions
  • Self-regulation
  • Self-regulatory capacity
  • Self-regulatory fatigue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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