Psychology ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-24-2017


Chronic pain is a public health concern impacting approximately 100 million Americans; more than the rates of diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer combined. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an effective treatment for chronic pain; however, the effects of MBSR tend to be small. A recent study suggests that tDCS in combination with a mindfulness-based intervention may enhance the learning of mindfulness skills (Witkiewitz et al., 2015). The current study used a randomized design to examine the effectiveness of active tDCS (2.0 mA) -enhanced MBSR compared to sham tDCS (0.1 mA)- enhanced MBSR. Participants were individuals diagnosed with chronic pain (N= 52) recruited from the community and from providers in primary care and pain clinics. Pre and post measures of mindfulness and pain-related functioning were completed, as well as measures of pain intensity, pain interference, and tDCS sensations. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (F3 electrode placement), an area activated during meditation and also important for pain processing, was the target of tDCS stimulation as determined by a pilot test comparing its effects to a placement targeting the anterior frontal cortex (F10 electrode placement). At a four-week follow up, regression analyses found no main effects in support of the active tDCS simulation; however, individuals who received active tDCS and attended more treatment sessions reported significantly higher rates of mindfulness and significant improvements in overall general health after participating in the MBSR group. This study advances our knowledge of behavioral interventions for chronic pain by testing a novel combination intervention that may help individuals struggling with pain to learn mindfulness skills and increase their functioning and quality of life. Although there were no main effects of treatment with our small sample size and short duration follow-up, the current study suggests that combination tDCS and MBSR intervention is feasible, cost-effective, and may improve treatment outcomes for individuals with chronic pain.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Katie Witkiewitz, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Vince Clark, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Kevin Vowles, Ph.D.

Fourth Committee Member

Brian Shelley, M.D.

Fifth Committee Member

Brandi Fink, Ph.D.




chronic pain, mindfulness-based stress reduction, transcranial direct stimulation, brain stimulation.

Document Type


Included in

Psychology Commons