Northwestern Events Calendar


Pain, Action and Interference - Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, PhD

When: Friday, November 8, 2019
12:30 PM - 1:30 PM  

Where: Robert H Lurie Medical Research Center, Hughes Auditorium, 303 E. Superior, Chicago, IL 60611 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Michelle Mohney   312.503.5602

Group: Center for Translational Pain Research

Department of Physiology Seminars

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, PhD
Professor of Health Psychology, KU Leuven University, Belgium
Professor of Experimental Health Psychology, Maastricht University, Netherlands
Adjunct Research Professor, University of South Australia, Adelaide 

Pain is a biologically relevant and vital signal of bodily threat, urging the individual to protect him/herself. Immediate protective responses to pain include increased arousal, orientation to the sources of threat, and various safety-seeking behaviors including escape and avoidance. Given its eminent survival value, pain is a strong motivator for learning. Responding to the repeated occurrence of the same painful event increases when harm risks are high (sensitization), and decreases in the absence of such risks (habituation). Discovering relations between pain and other events provides the possibility to predict (Pavlovian conditioning) and control (operant conditioning) harmful events. Avoidance is of particular relevance in explaining the development of chronic pain problems: It is adaptive in short term, but paradoxically may have detrimental long-term effects. Pain does not occur in a vacuum, and the urge to act competes with other demands in the person’s environment.

In this presentation, I will discuss experimental work featuring the acquisition, generalization and extinction of pain-related fear using a proprioceptive fear-conditioning paradigm. I will also review of the effectiveness of novel exposure techniques, which share the aim to facilitate or restore the pursuit of individual valued life goals in the face of persistent pain.


Crombez G, Eccleston C, Van Damme S, Vlaeyen JW, Karoly P. Fear-avoidance model of chronic pain: the next generation. The Clinical journal of pain 2012;28(6):475-483.

Vlaeyen JW, Linton SJ. Fear-avoidance model of chronic musculoskeletal pain: 12 years on. Pain 2012;153(6):1144-1147.

Vlaeyen JW. Learning to predict and control harmful events: chronic pain and conditioning. Pain 2015;156 Suppl 1:S86-93.

Vlaeyen JW, Morley S, Crombez G. The experimental analysis of the interruptive, interfering, and identity-distorting effects of chronic pain. Behav Res Ther 2016;86:23-34.

Vlaeyen JW, Morley S, Linton S, Boersma K, De Jong J. Pain-Related Fear: Exposure-Based Treatment for Chronic Pain. Seattle: IASP Press, 2012.

Vlaeyen JW, Crombez G. Behavioral Conceptualization and Treatment of Chronic Pain. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology (in press).

Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, PhD studied psychology at the Free University of Brussels (Belgium) and did his clinical psychology internship at the University of Washington, Seattle (USA). He received his PhD at Maastricht University in 1991.

The main interest of Johan W.S. Vlaeyen is the understanding of cognitive and behavioral mechanisms of chronic disability due to somatic complaints and pain in particular, and the development and evaluation of customized cognitive-behavioral management strategies for individuals suffering chronic pain.

His experimental work has highlighted the role of the threat value of pain in the engagement of defensive responses such as increased physiological arousal, hypervigilance and escape/avoidance behaviors. He and his team currently are examining the role of fear learning, and the pathways to the development of pain-related fear including. These include fear learning through direct experience, contextual fear learning when pain is unpredictable, observational fear learning, and learning through verbal instructions.

Johan Vlaeyen and his team also have developed exposure-based treatments for fear-reduction and they have utilized randomized controlled trials as well as replicated single-case experimental designs to evaluate the effects of behavioral interventions for patients with chronic pain. 

Johan Vlaeyen is on the editorial board of the journals Pain, European Journal of Pain, Clinical Journal of Pain, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

He co-edited the book “Understanding and Treating Fear of Pain”, received the Pain award of the Dutch Chapter of IASP, and obtained an honorary doctorate at the University of Örebro, Sweden for his scientific contributions in the area of pain psychology.

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