The findings may have implications for future therapeutics, believes Dr Wiech.
"If we were able to stimulate the prefrontal cortex through psychological intervention, medication or some other stimulus, we could help reduce the pain felt by a patient," she says. "However, we are still some way of this."
The team also analysed the subjects' outlook on life, examining whether they felt in control of their own lives. They found that whilst the subjects' outlook did not affect the anterolateral prefrontal cortex when they controlled the stimulus, when they were not able to stop the painful stimulation subjects with no control expectations were better at activating this brain region than those with a strong control belief.
The findings support the practice of "acceptance-based therapy" whereby doctors focus on training patients to cope with the pain rather than attempting to make the pain go away.
"Throughout our lives, we are taught that we should aim to take control of our lives, to get the best job, find the best partner," says Dr Wiech. "But sometimes we should accept what we have and make the most of it. Rather than constantly battling pain, our research supports the view that it is better to provide a patient with the tools to cope with his or her persistent pain."
The findings are welcomed by Pete Moore, lead trainer in pain management for the Expert Patients Programme Community Interest Company.
"This is interesting work by UCL. We have found that many people with pain are over achievers and tend to do more than they have to. This is why when people with persistent pain attend an Expert Patients Programme they are provided with a toolbox of self-management skills to support them to manage th